In The Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: Going nuclear on the Senate filibuster.
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, The Two Minute Drill will not be published next Friday, November 29, 2013. It will be back on December 6, 2013.
On Thursday, the Senate approved the most fundamental alteration of its rules in a generation. After years of threats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) executed the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster in certain circumstances. Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate (i.e. invoke cloture) on executive nominees and non-Supreme Court judicial nominees with a simple majority rather than a supermajority of 60 votes. How did it come to this?
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
On three recent occasions – January 2011, January 2013 and July 2013 – Senate Democrats threatened to make changes to the Senate filibuster rules, but ultimately walked back their threats in exchange for modest changes to the rules or even simply a gentleman’s agreements with Republicans.
In recent weeks, however, Senate Republicans embarked on an unprecedented campaign of obstruction. Republicans blocked the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. They blocked three highly-qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. And Republican leadership announced plans to block two more top Obama nominees: Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
These actions were part of a broader campaign by Republicans to paralyze the Obama administration by refusing to allow confirmation votes on qualified candidates for government positions and nullifying entire federal agencies by denying them leaders.
More than half of the 168 filibusters in the history of the United States have happened during the Obama administration. Since the Constitution was ratified, 23 district court nominees have been filibustered – 20 of them were nominated by President Obama. In addition, seventy-six presidential nominees have moved through committees and are waiting for confirmation in the Senate – and they’ve been waiting for 140 days, on average.
By any objective standard, this change needed to occur. Republicans abused Senate rules past the point of tolerance or responsibility. And they forced Harry Reid’s hand.
Word Count: 245.
The Five Most Interesting Things We Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles (both political and non-political) we’ve read this week:
- Vacation deprivation. In 2013, Americans only used 10 out of 14 vacation days, leaving more than 577 million days untouched. This according to an Expedia survey of 8,535 people across 24 countries. What’s their excuse? For some workers, it’s just not worth it: 10% of Americans say they can never relax on vacation, anyway.
- Manny Pacquiao has earned well over $200 million during one of the most successful careers in boxing history. But he needs another fight. “Why? Because, of course, boxing’s not so well dirty secret is that, financially, most fighters can never stop. No matter how outlandish a fortune they’ve earned inside the ring and out, most greats not only never get ahead, few can even manage getting out from under.” From SB Nation’s Brin Jonathan Butler: Requiem for a Welterweight.
- The history of the filibuster, in one graph. From Ezra Klein at The Washington Post.
- “Lincoln’s remarks anticipated the shift to vernacular rhythms which Mark twain would complete twenty years later. Hemingway claimed that all American novels are the offspring of Huckleberry Finn. It is no greater exaggeration to say that all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg Address . . .” From Historian Gary Wills on the significance of Lincoln’s speech, which was delivered 150 years ago.
- “A chime sounds, pleasant yet insistent, then a warning appears on his dashboard screen: ‘In one mile, prepare to resume manual control.” Take a ride in Google’s self-driving car.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week addressed the continuing need for sensible gun restrictions. Read the Column – America Needs Nationally Uniform and Effective Gun Laws.