Thank you Ted Cruz:
Over the weekend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to battle with Democrats, but his gambit backfired and ironically gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Barack Obama an unexpected Christmas gift.
It began on Friday evening, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were close to securing an agreement to quickly vote on the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Cruz, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), blindsided Republican leaders by objecting and dragging out the process as they demanded a vote to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
What Cruz didn’t count on was Reid instead seizing on the occasion — which forced the Senate to stay in session for procedural votes — to move forward with starting the confirmation vote clock on a whopping 24 Obama nominations that otherwise might have been jettisoned. The Texan’s tactic angered numerous Republican colleagues.
“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, according to Roll Call, blaming Cruz. “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”
I’ve said before that I wished more movement conservatives shared the bizarre fetish for third parties that some people on the left have, which would produce a much better political world. But at least Cruz and Lee seem to be bringing some of this strategic illogic to legislative tactics.
Of course, there’s a bigger related story — namely, the effects of the postmature decision to end the filibuster for judicial nominees:
If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.
In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.
President George W. Bush confirmed just 32 district court and circuit court judges during his sixth year in office, according to data provided by Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group focused on the federal judiciary. President Bill Clinton confirmed 65 judges in his sixth year. In total, Bush confirmed 256 district and circuit court nominees after six years in office, Clinton confirmed 302, and President Ronald Reagan confirmed 295. Those numbers include a handful of Court of International Trade confirmations.
Senate filibuster reform played a major role in Obama’s spike in judicial confirmations this year. Democrats changed the rules last year to require a simple majority, or 51 votes, instead of 60 votes to advance most judicial nominees. They made the change in response to Republicans abusing the filibuster rule to block several of Obama’s nominees — even noncontroversial picks.
And tying the two together, as Bernstein points out this was made possible by a much broader group of Republicans engaging in Cruz-style tactics that managed the enormously difficult task of convincing even Pat Leahy that the filibuster for most judicial and executive branch nominees had to go. It’s not quite the same thing — thinking that Senate Democrats had no breaking point at all was an understandable mistake — but Republican overreaching consistently played into Reid’s hands for the last two years.