Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 7:20 pm | Fair 60º


Susan Estrich: The Senate’s Filiuster Cold War Continues

I was, frankly, quite delighted to see that my former student Chai Feldblum, who grew up to be one of the nation's leading scholars and lawyers on issues of equality, especially for women and LGBT Americans, was confirmed to serve a full term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Chai, a longtime law professor at Georgetown University, was first appointed to the EEOC in 2009 and then was a recess appointment in 2010. Her term expired last July, and her re-nomination has been languishing along with the nominations of more than 100 other highly qualified people for executive positions and judgeships.

Finally, last week, with the recent changes to the filibuster rules, the Senate voted 57-39 to break the filibuster, and in the wee hours of Thursday morning, she was confirmed 54-41.


I have another friend and former student waiting in the wings for confirmation, and I don't want to jinx it by naming her. She has no opposition. She came out of the committee unanimously. Not a judge. More than that I shouldn't say, except that she probably already would have been confirmed had Democrats not decided to go nuclear to push through the three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, none of whom could get a vote without getting rid of the traditional filibuster.

So now those three will be confirmed (one already has been), but Republicans have all kinds of procedural plays to slow down the confirmation of uncontroversial nominees like my other friend, not to mention the "blue slip" power that allows a single senator to put an indefinite hold on judicial nominees from his or her state.

Anyone who thought the nuclear option was the end of the war is just plain wrong.

Indeed, the rules allow for up to 30 hours of debate on each nominee — and that is, apparently, why the Senate stayed up all night Wednesday.

Think about it: With all of the problems we face, the Senate could be spending 30 hours per nominee, and not in important debate about controversial issues, but in pure run-out-the-clock gamesmanship so that those who have had their lives on hold for the past year might finally get to take a large pay cut so they can engage in much-needed public service.

Why worry about fixing Obamacare, or addressing the balance between liberty and security, or dealing with terrorism around the world, when the distinguished gentlemen and women of the Senate can have sleepover parties so that uncontroversial nominees get their 30 hours of nondebate?

And then if the Republicans win the Senate in 2014, will those high-minded, principled senators who have been complaining about the system on television turn around and restore the 60-vote filibuster so as to protect minority rights, as they have so fervently favored as a minority?

No, of course they won't. They will say what is good for the goose is good for the gander, even if it's bad for the country.

Washington is caught in its own long self-destructive cold war. The only thing I know for sure is that the 2014 midterms will be nastier and meaner and more expensive than ever. Oh, yes, and people will come out of it, whoever wins, even more disgusted with the political system. You'd have to really work hard to come up with a body as deeply dysfunctional as today's Senate.

Of course, there is a budget compromise in the works — for which Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is being attacked by conservatives. That's almost funny, if there were any room for real humor here. Ryan is a conservative. If he's not acceptable, who is? It's no coincidence, I think, that the criticism of Ryan has finally seemed to wake House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, from his endless siege of denial to realize that ideologues in his own party might actually be destroying that party.

"There comes a point when people step over the line," Boehner said last week. "When you criticize something and you have no idea what you're criticizing, it undermines your credibility."

There's been a lot of that lately in Washington, and I wouldn't bet the mortgage money on it stopping any time soon. But maybe. In the meantime, hooray for Chai.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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