You might recall the term “nuclear option” from 2005, back when the Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress (not to mention the Executive and Judicial branches). Even if you remember the name, do you remember what it was all about?
Bush had successfully gotten over 95% of his judicial nominees approved by the Senate (who have the constitutional duty to review such appointments), but he was greedy. He wanted the rest approved, but the Democrats were threatening to filibuster the remaining nominees. As Senator Dick Durbin put it:
People across the country understand what it means to change the rules in the middle of the game, which is what the nuclear option would do. It would eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees, a tradition of the Senate that’s been here for over 200 years. … He wants more power. It’s not just the power to govern. It’s the power to rule.
The “nuclear option” would require an “up or down vote” on judicial nominees. So who was promoting the nuclear option? Here’s Senator Jon Kyl (the junior Senator from Arizona, where McCain is the senior Senator) in an interview from June 2005 on PBS, defending the nuclear option:
For 214 years it has been the tradition of the Senate to approve judicial nominees by a majority vote. Many of our judges and, for example, Clarence Thomas, people might recall, was approved by either fifty-one or fifty-two votes as I recall. It has never been the rule that a candidate for judgeship that had majority support was denied the ability to be confirmed once before the Senate. It has never happened before. So we’re not changing the rules in the middle of the game. We’re restoring the 214-year tradition of the Senate because in the last two years Democrats have begun to use this filibuster.
In the end, the Republicans prevailed, not because they actually used the nuclear option, but because the threat of it caused the Democrats to back down. Kyl even warned the Congressional Democrats after the 2004 election that “voters will be watching for more cooperation and less confrontation when we gather again in January.”
Now, fast forward to yesterday, just three days after the election of Barack Obama and the Republicans are already striking a confrontational pose. Jon Kyl (now the second-ranking Republican in the Senate), giving a speech at the conservative Federalist Society in Phoenix, warned president-elect Barack Obama that he would filibuster Supreme Court appointments if those nominees were too liberal.
Where is your 214-year tradition now, Senator Kyl? The voters are still looking for more cooperation and less confrontation, but you can’t even wait for Obama to be sworn in before you draw your sword.
One has to wonder what he would do if the Democrats proposed Kyl’s own solution — the “nuclear option” — in response to his threat of a judicial filibuster. I would love to hear the dripping hypocrisy of what he would say against it.