Only Republicans “Forced” The Nuclear Option
by Kevin Kelton
In the days since Senate Republicans voted to overturn the Democrat’s filibuster and confirm SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch on a mostly party-line 54-44 vote, I’ve seen many respected journalists and not-so-respected bloggers describe the event as the Democrats “forcing” the GOP to invoke the nuclear option.
The Democrats did nothing of the kind.
What did happen is, the GOP voluntarily and willfully broke the long-standing rules of the senate by arbitrarily rewriting them. No one forced them to do it. Nothing in the parliamentary rules of the United States Senate or U.S. Constitution made them break a revered 80-year policy of honoring the filibuster rule and requiring cloture for SCOTUS nominees.
The only person who forced anything was Sen. Mitch McConnell. Twice. First, he forced the senate to reject the legal and constitutional nomination by a sitting president of the eminently qualified Merrick Garland without even so much as a hearing. In fact, he rejected the Garland nomination before Garland was even nominated.
Then he forced the senate into a vote to selfishly cast aside a rule that everyone thinks has served the upper chamber well and everyone wanted honored and maintained. Everyone. Even McConnell’s 51 GOP colleagues.
McConnell’s argument that the minority party “forced” him to do what he did smacks of the same logic domestic abusers often use: “She wouldn’t listen to reason. She made me do it.”
No one makes you cheat. When you’re losing a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth, no one makes you change the rules…or move the wall closer to home base…or change the way you count the runs. The only things that governs cheaters are their conscious and their honor, or lack thereof. Short-term gains can be won. But character cannot be won back.
The better course of action for senate Republicans, and the one better for the country, would have been to honor the filibuster and ask the president to withdraw the nomination. Then President Trump would have nominated another conservative jurist from his list of names pre-approved by the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. And Senate Democrats would have acquiesced to that nominee. If not her or him, then the next. There is no shortage of qualified strict constructionist judges from which Trump could have chosen.
But there is a shortage of democratic stop-gaps on the will of a power-hungry majority. And McConnell just blew one up.
So celebrate Gorsuch’s addition to the Court if you like, or scorn his confirmation. But don’t blame the nuclear option and the loss of the judicial filibuster on the minority party.
No one makes anyone else set off a nuclear explosion. And we all suffer the same radioactive fallout.