The obstructionist game
2/10/2017, 10:27 p.m.
Earl O. Hutchinson
“I don’t remember us treating their nominees this way.”
This is what an apoplectic GOP Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah raged at his Democratic colleagues when they had the temerity to boycott confirmation hearings on two Trump appointees. Sen. Hatch, of course, had to feign righteous anger, indignation and disgust at what he branded the Democrat’s obstructionism in refusing to show up for a possible vote on the nominations. That’s tantamount to a bank robber railing with indignation at their bank account being plundered by an identity thief.
Sen. Hatch knows full well how the obstruction game is played. The moment that former President Obama set his toe in the White House in January 2009, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell openly and loudly boasted that he would make him a one-term president. The GOP’s far more telling aim, though, was to make his presidency a failed presidency. To do that, the GOP wielded the one formidable weapon that it had. That was the power to say no to any and everything that President Obama proposed. That especially included his appointees. If the GOP screeched loud and long enough and muddied the stream with much misinformation and disinformation about a top Obama pick, it might get the nominee canned.
The near textbook example of that was the GOP’s full-throated assault on the nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Ms. Rice was lambasted from pillar to post as too weak, too conciliatory and too dovish on the issues of military defense and terrorism. President Obama withdrew her name. Many of his other nominees fared no better. The GOP-controlled Senate in 2015 confirmed fewer of President Obama’s picks for all positions than it did for any other president in the previous 30 years.
This was child’s play, however, compared to the GOP’s massive “just say no” to President Obama’s judicial picks. Here are some embarrassing numbers. In 2008, President George W. Bush’s last year in office, the Democratic Senate majority confirmed 23 federal district court and four appeals court judges.
Sen. Hatch and the GOP radically changed the game with President Obama. He got the grand total of one federal circuit judge confirmed in 2015 and 2016, and a paltry number of district courts judges. The GOP stopped President Obama’s judicial nominees by using every parliamentary trick at its disposal. The numbers result: President Bush got more than 90 percent of his judges confirmed while President Obama checked in with less than 50 percent.
The GOP’s flagrant and outrageous obstructionism to President Obama’s nominees had a dire unintended consequence that has come back to bite the Democrats in the backside with the GOP in the Senate driver’s seat.
The tactic forced a plainly frustrated then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to go nuclear with the filibuster tactic. He scrapped its use by a Senate minority on any nomination other than a Supreme Court nomination. If the 60-vote rule were in effect now, the Democrats would have enormous leverage in having their say over some of President Trump’s more odious nominees to cabinet posts. But the GOP’s obstruction gall may even turn that rule inside out. President Trump demands that the GOP leaders go nuclear on the 60-vote confirmation rule for a Supreme Court judge to get his Scalia-clone pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, through. If that happens, the slender wisp of an opposition tool to slow down President Trump and the GOP would be blown away in the wind.
The writer is a political analyst and author.