The Gang-Of-14 Deal Was Good For The GOP? Get Serious…

by John Hawkins | January 16, 2006 6:15 am

Although this political analysis of the gang-of-14 deal by Tigerhawk[1] is absolutely terrible, I’d normally be content to let it slide, especially since he’s a fine blogger. But, for reasons I cannot fathom, this argument seems to be getting a lot of play around the blogosphere and so someone needs to step up and counter it. Luckily, like Underdog, I’m going to swoop in and save the day. But first, here’s the gist of Tigerhawk’s reasoning:

“Looking back, I think we can say that the Republican leadership in the Senate handled the filibuster controversy last April and May better than a lot of conservative bloggers thought they had. Majority Leader Frist and others pushed the “nuclear option,” which would have by simple majority vote changed the rules to ban filibusters in connection with judicial nominations. That threat created a crisis in the Senate, which only resolved itself when seven Republicans and seven Democrats joined in a “Gang of 14” to agree to reject any rules change, confirm three specific appellate judges without a filibuster, and refrain from the filibuster in the future other than under “extraordinary circumstances.”

…On the results, at least, the host of conservatives who opposed the filibuster compromise in May were wrong, and are undoubtedly delighted that this is the case.

Of course, many conservatives will still say that the filibuster should have been abolished when we had the chance. Long time readers know that back in May I disagreed, with qualifications, and I still think I was right. Yes, the Republicans would have had an easier procedural job of it had they abolished the filibuster outright in the spring. However, by signing up for the principle that the filibuster would only be deployed against candidates with some fundamental defect, the Gang of 14 essentially renounced ideology alone as the basis for a filibuster and required that the Democrats find something of substance to object to. When Bush picked smart, experienced, moral nominees, the Democrats could not lay a glove on them without resorting to scurrilous attacks that made them look like such idiots that even Joseph Biden had to throw in the towel.”

Oh yeah, leaving the filibuster alive hasn’t caused any problems whatsoever — if you forget about a woman by the name of Harriet Miers! Undoubtedly, the filibuster threat helped intimidate Bush into selecting Miers and if not for an almost unprecedented revolt by the base, she’d have been the one on the Supreme Court instead of Alito.

Moreover, of course the Democrats haven’t filibustered Alito. It’s because they know the GOP has the votes for the nuclear option and they’d rather just keep their powder dry rather than waste it on a futile attempt to stop Alito. But, what if the GOP loses 2 or 3 seats in the 2006 elections and no longer can muster the votes for the nuclear option? Well, then expect Harry Reid and Company to use the filibuster again if another justice on the SCOTUS retires in Bush’s term.

And in return for leaving this powerful weapon in the Democrat’s hands, the Republicans got what out of the deal exactly? Nothing at all! The Democrats were just threatening to be even more obstructionist than usual in the Senate for a few months, something that would have made them look like spoiled brats and hurt them at the polls.

There was no upside to the Gang-of-14 deal for Republicans, it almost produced a disaster by the name of Harriet Miers and it could still produce one later in Bush’s term. At this point, why anyone other than the Senators who signed on to it — and their mothers — could still think it was a good deal for Republicans completely baffles me…

*** Update #1 ***: Kudos to Tigerhawk for posting in the comments section here. Among other things, he had this to say about the Miers nomination:

“I don’t think the Miers debacle (and we agree on that) was the result of the May deal, and if I did I might think differently. I think Miers got the nod because (i) she was a woman, (ii) had no paper trail, (iii) was manifestly pro-business, as was O’Connor, and (iv) was close enough to Bush that he probably was confident on her stand on abortion notwithstanding the lack of exogenous evidence. He was weak in September, and did not realize that Miers would irritate his base so much (perhaps because Rove was distracted). He learned otherwise.

…I admit, I think it was a good deal because I think that there would have been considerable costs to removing the filibuster, notwithstanding the procedural benefits. I also do not think for a minute that the Miers nomination was the result of the May deal. If you take the other side of those two key points, then I certainly would expect you to come out the way you do.”

The Filibuster threat had EVERYTHING to do with Miers being selected.

Before Bush made his selection, people thought that the Democrats were just itching to unleash a filibuster. From a Mid-September 2005 Novak column[2]:

“Republican Senate strategists believe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is the only possible Bush nominee to replace O’Connor who would not face a filibuster.”

As I noted back on September 23, 2005 — it was entirely possible that could effect the nominee selected[3]:

“Yes, there are PROBABLY enough GOP votes to block the Dems from doing a filibuster on the next Supreme Court Justice. But, you can never really count on butter spined, rubber kneed Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mike DeWine, & John Warner. Because of that, it’s more likely that Bush will make the mistake of selecting a less attractive nominee to conservatives in order to placate the Democrats. Had the GOP pulled the trigger nuclear option, Bush could have nominated anyone he so desired, from William Pryor to Janice Rogers Brown, while being absolutely confident that there was nothing of consequence the Democrats could do about it other than sputter with rage.”

Also, while the White House surely didn’t realize how big and ugly the Miers debacle would get, they must have known that selection would infuriate the base. Certainly, if I knew that[4], Karl Rove did too. From a column on September 28, 2005:

“First of all, although John Roberts was supported by most conservatives, there were more than a few complaints that his track record wasn’t long enough. Because of that, there’s this nagging doubt in a lot of people’s minds about whether Roberts will turn out to have more in common with his mentor William Rehnquist or enormous disappointment Anthony Kennedy. So if anything, the base is looking for a sure thing this time around and the level of discontent on the right will certainly rise if they don’t get it.

…Up to this point in his 2nd term, for whatever reason, George Bush’s political instincts seem to have largely failed him. But, this is one area where Bush cannot afford to make a mistake. Nominating Alberto Gonzales or for that matter any of the other nominees with questionable conservative credentials — like Edith Brown Clement, Larry Thompson, J. Harvie Wilkinson, or Harriet Miers — would be a calamitous error.”

So, what did we have in Harriet Miers? A 4th tier, underqualified crony, who was taken over dozens of more deserving candidates despite the fact that Bush’s base would be furious — and you don’t think the filibuster had anything to do with it? Come on, other than being Bush’s pal, the fact that she had been recommended by Harry Reid and was therefore unlikely to be filibustered was the biggest thing she had going for her. Without the filibuster threat hanging over his head, there is no way Bush would have taken a candidate as mediocre as Miers over someone like Alito…

  1. Tigerhawk:
  2. Novak column:
  3. could effect the nominee selected:
  4. knew that:

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