No, Harry Reid didn’t just ram Obama nominees through the Senate because of Ted Cruz’s legislative maneuver to demand a vote on a constitutional point of order.
Reid wasn’t somehow enabled to bring the nominees to a Senate vote because of Cruz, nor did he force the votes this week because of a fit of pique he wouldn’t have felt, absent the legislative maneuver by Cruz.
The narrative about Cruz’s constitutional point of order and the nominees was a load of hooey from the get-go. With the filibuster unavailable to the minority party, Reid has had enough Democrats throughout the current Congress to confirm any of Obama’s nominees. All he needs is 51 votes – and he has 55 Democrats in the chamber.
The reason Reid hadn’t previously brought the most notorious of the nominees to the floor – Dr. Vivek Murthy, Obama’s choice for surgeon general – was that enough Democrats opposed Murthy to make a vote dicey. This was due, of course, to Murthy’s thoroughly unmedical stance on guns, which he considers a public health issue, and which he wants doctors legally required to interrogate patients about.
(Murthy also brings to his new position youth – he’s 37 – and a complete lack of experience with public health administration. Naturally, one of his chief attractions for Obama is that he founded Doctors for Obama in 2008, renamed it Doctors for America in 2009, and has spent a great deal of time engaging in politics, such as plumping for Obamacare, since Obama became president.)
Not only has Reid been able to bring the nominees to a vote all this time: he has intended for weeks – nay, months – to hold votes on them before the Congress adjourns. How do we know that? Besides the extensive documentation provided in this post at RedState, it’s what Reid’s own senior staffer said:
According to Politico, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell had “hoped” that Reid wouldn’t force through nominations in the beginning of the week, but Democrats called up the votes anyway.
McConnell himself tried to adjourn the Senate on Monday, but Reid objected.
“Sen. McConnell has known for weeks if not months that Sen. Reid planned to move forward on these noms,” Reid communications director Adam Jentleson tweeted after McConnell’s failed move. “Maybe he failed to inform his caucus.”
Sen. McConnell has known for weeks if not months that Sen. Reid planned to move forward on these noms. Maybe he failed to inform his caucus.
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) December 13, 2014
Now, it’s quite true that much of the Senate was reportedly in a blind rage over Cruz and Mike Lee’s move to force a vote on a constitutional point of order relating to the $1.1 trillion spending bill (the vote took place on Saturday evening). Their move, according to the narrative, prevented the Senate from closing up shop for the weekend, which is what the leadership on both sides had intended to do after a projected bipartisan success with the “CRomnibus” bill. (Although see the RedState link above, which mines earlier statements from Reid’s office, and the Senate calendar, to demonstrate that the Democrats were looking at working through this past weekend even before Cruz and Lee introduced their point of order.)
At any rate, Cruz and Lee demanded that the senators declare themselves first on the constitutionality of funding the execution of Obama’s amnesty proclamation.
The fit of pique that ought to impress American voters is that of the Senate Republicans, almost half of whom voted against Cruz and Lee – that is, with Obama and the Democrats – on the constitutionality of funding an unconstitutional act by the president. Cruz and Lee’s point of order failed 74-22, because of the defection of nearly half the GOP.
Had the 21 GOP defectors* voted with Cruz and Lee, the point of order would still have failed, 53-43. So the defectors accomplished nothing with their votes except registering their irritation toward Cruz and Lee.
If voters will get the cotton out of their ears, and peel the wool back from over their eyes, they will see what else the Senate GOP defectors accomplished. They exposed what they are: members of the Senate “club,” first and above all else.
Cruz and Lee tried to use the means available to them to at least make the Democrats fight for a spending bill that gives Obama everything he wants. Making the opponent fight is how you make gains and get compromise. There was room for maneuver in this process.
Given Elizabeth Warren’s posturing on the spending bill’s implications for banking and finance regulations, it wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion that Reid could get a bill to fund the federal government on his terms – terms agreed with Mitch McConnell – all the way through 1 October 2015.
The Democrats aren’t a fully unified bloc. (They didn’t all vote for Vivek Murthy either. Only 50 of 55 did. It took a Republican, Mark Kirk of Illinois, to give Reid his 51 votes on Murthy.) There are exploitable divisions among the Democrats, if Republicans have the wit to leverage them.
Had Republicans fought harder, it’s quite possible that a spending bill compromise would have extended only through, say, March 2015, or even a date earlier than that. Apparently, the current GOP leadership needs to be instructed as to how that’s good for Republicans – not to mention for America and her long-suffering citizens.
The fight did matter here, which is why it made the complacent, clubbable senators so angry. Those clubbable senators are in no position to lecture the rest of us on how legislative activity should proceed. Their approach is the problem. It’s the reason why no matter whom we elect, we keep getting the same results. Shake-up and confrontation are exactly what we need.
When the artificial collegiality of your process is more important to you than the material results you’re getting – well, that is dysfunction. It produces corruption, from the momentum of collateral pressures, even if you don’t think corruption is what’s in your heart. The republic won’t survive it much longer.
* The defectors are listed here.