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May 04, 2005

Norman Ornstein Joins the Order of the Shrill!

Norman Ornstein speaks:

Norman Ornstein: "These Five Senators Know Better Than to Go Nuclear. Don't They?" Roll Call May 4, 2005: The fate of the Senate now rests in the hands of a handful of Republicans who have been great figures of the Senate, custodians of its traditions and its essence. They will soon come to a crossroads on the “nuclear” option.... All, I believe, know better, and each will be judged by history on their choice in this matter. They include Dick Lugar of Indiana, Ted Stevens of Alaska, John Warner of Virginia, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pete Domenici of New Mexico.... One late evening... I turned to Domenici and asked him why he was spending so many hours on a thankless task like ours. After all, his constituents would never notice, and any changes we recommended... were likely to be opposed vigorously.... He replied that service in the Senate was the highest honor he could receive, and he was determined to leave the place a better institution than when he arrived....

The Senate is on the verge of meltdown over the nuclear option, an unprecedented step that would shatter 200 years of precedent over rules changes and open up a Pandora’s box of problems in the years ahead.... [L]et’s look at the means used to achieve the goal of altering Senate procedures to block filibusters on judicial nominations.... [T]he Senate will have to get around the clear rules and precedents, set and regularly reaffirmed over 200 years, that allow debate on questions of constitutional interpretation--debate which itself can be filibustered. It will have to do this in a peremptory fashion, ignoring or overruling the Parliamentarian. And it will establish, beyond question, a new precedent... that whatever the Senate rules say... they can be ignored or reversed at any given moment on the whim of the current majority....

Rule XXII is clear about extended debate and cloture requirements, both for changing Senate rules (two-thirds required) and any other action by the Senate, nominations or legislation (60 Senators required).... Senate Rule XXXI... makes clear that there is neither guarantee nor expectation that nominations made by the president get an up-or-down vote.... It reads: “Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President; and if the Senate shall adjourn or take a recess for more than thirty days, all nominations pending and not finally acted upon at the time of taking such adjournment or recess shall be returned by the Secretary to the President, and shall not again be considered unless they shall again be made to the Senate by the President.”

By invoking their self-described nuclear option without changing the rules, a Senate majority will effectively erase them.... The precedent set [will be one of] a majority ignoring its own rules to override longstanding practice....

I know that Lugar, Stevens, Cochran, Warner and Domenici know better. (I know that Orrin Hatch (Utah), Bob Bennett (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) know better as well, but they are lost causes.) I also know that any of these five can withstand the heat that would come if they bucked their party leaders on this issue. Pete, remember what you said to me in 1977. Leave the Senate a better place. Please.

Does he wish that he'd been a little... clearer about his judgment of today's Republican leadership last fall, when it might have done some good?

Posted by DeLong at May 4, 2005 04:37 PM