by John Hawkins | May 16, 2005 1:14 am
While there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the nuclear option and judicial filibusters, one thing that hasn’t been discussed is the poor political strategy of the Democrats throughout this whole fight.
This hasn’t come into clear focus because the nuclear option hasn’t been used as of yet. But, given that Frist is going to get the process started this week, you can bet that he’s sure that he has the votes he needs to make it happen. So when the dust clears, what are the Democrats going to have gained for their filibusters?
All the judges that Bush renominated? They’re going to be confirmed. If Bush gets an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court Justice, the Democrats will be powerless to stop him. Furthermore, because the Democrats have been openly threatening to shut down the Senate if they lose this vote, they have helped to prove to the public that Republicans are right to call them “obstructionists” — a charge that helped sink Tom Daschle’s Senate campaign in 2004. Moreover, the Democratic base will be demanding that Harry Reid follow through on his threat to shut down the Senate which will only hurt the Democrats even more with the American public.
Maybe the Democratic leadership thought it was worth the gamble, but with 55 Republicans in the Senate and Cheney as a potential tiebreaker, it just wasn’t a smart move to go for broke on judges.
Consider some of the other political options Democrats could have gone with.
1) Had the Democrats chosen to do so, they probably could have killed several of the current nominees in exchange for an ironclad, public promise to cease filibustering judges. Republican Senators wouldn’t have liked that deal, but the RINOS would have jumped at the opportunity to avoid the nuclear option.
2) Given that the furor over judges took almost two years to build, the Democrats may have been able to get away with saving the filibuster for a Supreme Court Justice. With Rehnquist likely to retire, the Dems could have probably gotten away with filibustering a couple of Bush’s appointees and forced him to send another Anthony Kennedy or Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court in the place of a real conservative judge.
3) Frist’s deal — which included up to 100 hours of debate for every nominee and a guarantee that every nominee would get out of the judiciary committee and get an up or down vote — was actually a pretty good deal for Democrats considering the current political lay-of-the-land.
For one thing, if Democrats actually forced 100 hours of debate on every nominee they considered “controversial,” they would probably manage to kill a few of them because Republicans wouldn’t want to waste that much floor time.
Furthermore, although it’s impossible to say for sure at this point, the numbers game looks to favor the GOP in 2006 and we will probably be able to add Republican seats in the Senate. So even if a Democrat becomes President in 2008, he or she is likely to face a heavily Republican Senate and a Judiciary Committee where the GOP has a large edge.
Quite frankly, Democratic nominees stand a better chance on the floor where there are several RINOs who might vote for them, rather than in the Judiciary Committee. So getting every nominee to the floor for a vote would have been very beneficial to the Democrats.
Now maybe the Democrats will compromise at the last minute or perhaps they are still holding out hope that they’re going to pull victory from the jaws of defeat and will be allowed to continue to filibuster judges. But, it looks much more likely that they’re going to lose the vote and then they’re going to further hurt themselves politically by bringing the people’s business before the Senate to a halt.
Not only is what the Democrats are doing not allowed by the Constitution and contrary to 200+ years of Senate tradition, it’s poor political strategy. Harry Reid and company would have been wise to go in a different direction.
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