Skip to main content

'Nuclear option' makes GOP do its job

By Sally Kohn
updated 4:28 PM EST, Thu November 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With "nuclear option," judicial nominees can be confirmed with a simple majority vote
  • Sally Kohn: This will keep GOP from using a procedure to block President's appointments
  • Kohn: GOP made government virtually dysfunctional, blocked Obama at every turn
  • This will hold Republicans' feet to the fire to do their constitutional duty, she says

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter at @sallykohn.

(CNN) -- The Democratic Party's vote Thursday for the "nuclear option" was a move to deprive the minority party in the Senate of a procedure it has abused to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees and other appointees. Before, a single Republican could unilaterally and without any reason block a nominee from receiving a simple up-and-down vote on the Senate floor.

The "nuclear option," an overblown term for changing Senate rules to enable judicial and executive nominees to be confirmed with just 51 votes instead of 60, will put an end to using that procedure -- the filibuster -- to block appointees.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

Republicans have been gumming up the works of our government, both because they ideologically favor the dysfunction of government and because they want to fundamentally undermine the President at every step.

And so during Obama's five years in office, Republicans in the Senate have confirmed just one nominee to the Court of Appeals in Washington, often regarded as the nation's second highest court after the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Republicans have blocked three appointees to the court and held up countless other nominations to other important posts.

There had been a concern that if Democrats went nuclear, nothing would stop Republicans from employing equally restrictive procedures should Democrats be the minority party in the Senate again.

And yet, to anyone watching Washington today, is there any question that Republicans have abandoned any sense of bipartisan decorum and are solely functioning as anti-government, anti-Obama bullies? If Republicans repeatedly resort to such childish thuggery when they're the minority party, it's hard to imagine them behaving much better if they're put in charge.

If Democrats didn't flip the nuclear switch now to allow appointments to go through, Republicans will surely flip it later. At least if Democrats do it first, they get to finally vote on some critical nominees and move the governance and sanctity of our nation forward.

In a statement, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had said that attacking Obamacare is a priority over voting to fill key vacancies in the nation's courts. Sadly, Republicans in Congress are making a mockery of their constitutional obligations while turning the hallowed halls of our government into nothing more than a playground for their ideological circus.

Sometimes that circus is so absurd it hurts.

For instance, Republicans have repeatedly tried to blame the financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rather than -- for instance -- the deliberate scamming of big banks that are now paying massive settlements for their wrongdoing. And yet that topsy-turvy reasoning aside, Republicans are blocking the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Authority, deliberately maintaining a vacancy in the position charged with regulating and monitoring Fannie and Freddie.

The Constitution lays out the Senate's responsibility in this regard as clearly secondary to, not equal with, the president's authority:

"[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law."

Advice and consent. Not block and redirect and hold up and try to impose the will of the Senate's minority party on the nominations and actions of the president.

And so Democrats have finally had enough with a Republican Party that seems determined to pitch a temper tantrum about everything Obama does, no matter that he won two elections and his policies are widely popular with voters.

After all, even though the President's approval ratings took a hit, his numbers at 39% are still "sky high" compared with those of Congress, which has a 9% approval rating according to a recent Gallup poll. That's the lowest approval rating since Gallup has collected such data.

Moreover, while such low numbers overall likely reflect voter frustration with the partisan squabble of unproductive government, polls show that voters consistently blame Republicans far more than Democrats for this dynamic, whether for causing the government shutdown or deliberately sabotaging economic progress to hurt the President's image.

"Nuclear option" is a loaded term. Proponents of the measure call it the "constitutional option" in so far as it is constitutional and it would finally hold Senate Republicans' feet to the fire to perform their constitutional duty.

That indeed seems a more accurate description and one that reminds us all that it was Republicans' own reckless and destructive behavior that brought us to this point in the first place.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Sally Kohn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT