Politics that backfire
Now that the Republican Party holds a majority in the U.S. Senate after the Nov. 4 midterm elections, the GOP has secured an unexpected future benefit: the nuclear option. In November 2013, the Senate Democratic leadership sought to reform filibuster procedures. At the same time, Republicans rejected the verification of high-level positions appointed by the president.
The vote threshold for advancing bills was lowered from 60 to 51, the majority of the Senate. Back then, the Democratic Party had 55 seats while the Republicans had 45. With more than 51 votes just with the Democratic senators, the Republican Party could not filibuster against appointments. This is the nuclear option. The Democratic Party justified the nuclear option with the Republican Party’s interference. Among the 168 filibusters in history over the confirmation of high-ranking appointees by the president, about half were made in the Obama administration. But Republican Senator Mitch McConnell warned, “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
The warning came true in a year. After the midterm elections, the Republican Party gained the Senate majority with 53 seats, and the Democratic Party now has less than 50. McConnell will become the Senate majority leader in January.
If the Republican Party uses the momentum from the midterm elections, wins the presidential election in 2016 and maintains a majority in the Senate, the GOP will breeze through confirmation appointments thanks to the Democrats.
Having originally opposed it, how does the Republican Party feel now? Twenty-six members sent a letter to the Senate leadership asking to retain the nuclear option: “Make no mistake, reviving the filibuster for nominations would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the probability that the most qualified and most committed constitutionalists would be nominated or confirmed in a future Republican administration.”
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch argued, “Unilateral disarmament on nominations would only invite further damage to the institution.”
The Republicans are debating over the nuclear option, and there is little room for the Democrats to get involved. In a way, the Democrats used the filibuster reform as a trick. Under checks and balances, appointments by the president should go through Congress. The Democrats should make efforts to persuade their opponents and let the public judge whether the Republicans are unreasonably interfering with confirmations.
*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 22, Page 34
by CHAE BYUNG-GEON