Deal struck by ‘moderates’ preserves Senate, screws the rest of us
Judgment day must be near: Discourse is rough everywhere in America except where it should be—in Congress.
Striking a blow against democracy, the entrenched members of the nation’s most exclusive club preserved their civil atmosphere Monday but poisoned the civic atmosphere for the rest of us.
As the Washington Post notes this morning:
Fourteen Republican and Democratic senators broke with their party leaders last night to avert a showdown vote over judicial nominees, agreeing to votes on some of President Bush’s nominees while preserving the right to filibuster others in “extraordinary circumstances.”
The dramatic announcement caught Senate leaders by surprise and came on the eve of a scheduled vote to ban filibusters of judicial nominees, the “nuclear option” that has dominated Senate discussions for weeks. The deal clears the way for prompt confirmation of three appellate court nominees—Priscilla R. Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William H. Pryor Jr.
Brown is a disciple of the Federalist Society, far-right lawyers who hate almost everything that has occurred since ratification of the Constitution, with the exception of the establishment of corporations as virtual legal persons.
In an October 2003 profile of Brown, The Black Commentator, borrowing from the Guardian (U.K.), noted:
The California state judge “has such an atrocious civil rights record she makes Clarence Thomas look like Thurgood Marshall,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) at a Congressional Black Caucus press conference, last week. “She’s cut from the same cloth as Clarence Thomas,” declared Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in the House, and one of the caucus’s leading legal lights.
The buzz words of this monumental cave-in by the Senate just kill me. “Armageddon has been avoided,” the BBC quoted New York Democratic senator Chuck Schumer as saying.
Schumer was referring to the Bush regime’s vow to shut down the Senate if a compromise wasn’t reached about the fight over a few of Bush’s reactionary judges.
It was the GOP that cooked up the phrase “nuclear option” to warn what would happen if the Democrats filibustered. The Democrats, eager to preserve the decorum of the clubby Senate, bought into that language. Armageddon, it’s not. Armageddon tired of these so-called Democrats running scared.
Once again, the extremists among the Republicans have set not only the agenda but the words used during this war over filibusters. As the BBC says this morning:
Republicans have been accusing Democrats of behaving in an unconstitutional manner by advocating the tactic, and threatened to abolish the rule for judicial nominations.
Democrats—and some critics on the Republican side—have pointed out that the same tactic was used against former President Bill Clinton‘s nominees.
They also point out that there is little difference between the ratio of approvals to blocked nominations under President Bush and that of the Clinton administration.
If the Republican side had gone ahead, in a plan which would have used the vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney to declare the filibuster unconstitutional, the upshot could have been to freeze Senate business altogether.
Republicans originally called this the “nuclear option”, before switching to the term “constitutional option.”
More and more, Congress is drifting away from the people who supposedly elect it. The U.S. House is assuredly no longer small-D democratic, as I noted last September. The Center for Voting and Democracy says:
More than 90 percent of Americans live in congressional districts that are essentially one-party monopolies.
Meanwhile, the Senate, set up to be more exclusive with its six-year terms, is increasingly clubby. Another of its 14 “moderates,” John McCain, said, “The Senate won and the country won.”
No, actually it was C. Boyden Gray, Bush-Cheney Inc.’s fix-it guy during the Florida Fiasco of ’00 and a major player behind the scenes in Ohio in the ’04 election, who won. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum of the Washington Post dug behind the scenes of this current mess to produce a shrewd piece this morning that sussed out Gray’s role:
The eccentric Gray stood at the center of what had threatened to become a historic confrontation between the political parties. The former White House counsel was as responsible as anyone for the attempt to change Senate rules to smooth the way for approval of the president’s judicial nominees. Yesterday evening, his efforts were upended by an eleventh-hour compromise that apparently has averted the showdown. But Gray won a partial victory because filibustering of federal judgeship nominations will now be much more rare.
One reason that Gray, White House counsel for George W. Bush’s pappy, is considered “eccentric” is that he’s loathed by the neocons when it comes to foreign policy but he’s cherished by the Bush regime as a supreme troubleshooter on domestic issues.
Gray’s been on the inside of some heavy political maneuvering for decades. In an interesting piece last week about Gray’s pitch to be named Bush’s ambassador to the European Union, Marc Perelman wrote in The Forward:
C. Boyden Gray, who was White House counsel in the administration of George H.W. Bush, is a top contender to be named to the increasingly important diplomatic position in Brussels. This is said to have angered some powerful neocon figures. …
Gray’s deeper problem appears to be his alignment with Republicans from the so-called “realist” school of foreign policy. The realist school, often associated with Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the senior Bush, opposes the neoconservatives’ vision of projecting American force in order to bring democracy to the Middle East.
Gray is identified with the younger Bush on domestic policy, and is known as a leading advocate of the administration’s effort to appoint conservative judges to the federal bench. At the same time, Gray is a member of a small group of Republicans, known as the Committee for the Republic, who oppose parts of the president’s foreign policy. After America’s invasion of Iraq, the committee issued a manifesto to “educate Americans about the dangers of empire and the need to return to our founding traditions and values.”
Yeah, fine, send the guy overseas, for God’s sakes. Anything to keep him from meddling any more with the Senate.