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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT