McConnell Op-Ed: Time to Stop the Democrats' Obstruction
‘Since January 2017, for the first time in memory, a minority has exploited procedure to systematically obstruct a president from staffing up his administration. This new, across-the-board obstruction is unfair to the president and, more importantly, to the American people. Left unchecked, it is guaranteed to create an unsustainable precedent that would see every future presidency of either party obstructed in the same mindless way. The Senate needs to restore normalcy.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following op-ed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can be found on Politico.com:
“It took six months of partisan delays — and several railroad accidents — before Democrats let the Senate confirm a federal railroad administrator, even though none of them actually voted against the nominee in the end.
“It’s been 354 days and counting in Senate purgatory for the president’s nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two-hundred eighty-seven days and counting for the under secretary of state for management. Noncontroversial lower court nominees have languished for weeks and weeks — for no discernible reason — before they, too, were confirmed unanimously. These are just a few examples of the historic obstruction Senate Democrats have visited upon President Trump’s nominees for two years and counting.
“Since January 2017, for the first time in memory, a minority has exploited procedure to systematically obstruct a president from staffing up his administration. This new, across-the-board obstruction is unfair to the president and, more importantly, to the American people. Left unchecked, it is guaranteed to create an unsustainable precedent that would see every future presidency of either party obstructed in the same mindless way.
“The Senate needs to restore normalcy. And this week, we will vote to do just that.
“Every presidential election since John Adams beat Thomas Jefferson in 1796 has undoubtedly left some senators disappointed. But never before has the unhappy side then built a systematic effort to keep the new president's administration unstaffed.
“We aren’t talking about limited opposition to a few high-profile nominees or unusual circumstances. It’s mindless, undiscriminating obstruction for the sake of obstruction. Even uncontroversial lower-level nominees whom literally no senators oppose are not spared.
“Across the first two years of each of the six presidents preceding President Trump, the Senate only had to hold 24 total cloture votes on nominations. That’s the once-rare procedural step that unlocks an up-or-down confirmation vote even though a minority has sought to block it.
“And in President Trump’s first two years? We had to hold a stunning 128 cloture votes to advance nominations. Our Democratic colleagues made the Senate jump over five times as many hurdles as in the equivalent periods in the Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations combined.
“Because of this obstruction, the Senate’s progress in filling important executive branch positions has been insufficient. Crucial jobs are still being held empty out of political spite. More nominees whom I suspect would be confirmed without opposition are still being delayed indefinitely because our colleagues cannot finish grieving their loss in 2016.
“The all-encompassing, systematic nature of this obstruction is not part of the Senate’s important tradition of minority rights. It is a new departure from that tradition. And this break with tradition is hurting the Senate, hamstringing our duly elected president, and denying citizens the government they elected.
“Moreover, if we let this partisan paralysis continue, it will define a new norm for the future. It’s hard to imagine any future presidency of either party would be spared.
“We can’t accept this. We need to stop this bizarre, new practice. We need to rebuild a nominations process that resembles the way things worked for more than two centuries.
“Fortunately, the recent past provides a path forward.
“In January 2013, as President Obama began his second term, I and many other Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to enact bipartisan reform of our nominations rules.
“Republicans certainly weren’t thrilled with the election result. But instead of throwing a systematic tantrum, we acknowledged that the president should be able to build a government at a reasonable pace.
“The measure, pushed by then-Democratic Leader Harry Reid and the current Democratic Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, sped up consideration of lower-tier nominations without changing the procedure for nominations to the Supreme Court, the circuit courts, or Cabinet-level executive positions. It helped us get lower-tier nominees out of Senate purgatory and into their roles without touching the most consequential vacancies.
“It was a big step toward restoring Senate tradition. Even with a Democratic president, many Republicans still thought it was the right thing to do. The resolution got 78 votes.
“These modest changes helped. But they only applied for the Congress in which they were enacted. And the need is much more urgent today.
“That’s why, this week, the Senate will vote on a proposal to recreate similar, modest steps and make them permanent going forward.
“Our proposal would only reduce the time a minority can keep delaying lower-tier nominations after a majority has invoked cloture. This would keep the Senate floor moving, saving time that is currently tied up in inoffensive nominations that senators don’t even really debate. And, at last, it would let President Trump fill important vacancies at a more reasonable pace.
“Democrats overwhelmingly supported changes like these in 2013 when they helped President Obama. And privately, many of our Democratic colleagues tell us they’d be happy to support this new proposal, too — as long as we postpone its effective date until January 2021, when they hope there will be a Democrat occupying the White House.
“Give me a break. A rules change is either a good idea or it isn’t. The answer cannot depend on whether you like the current occupant of the White House. Simple fairness dictates that there cannot be protections in place for Democratic administrations past and future that magically skip over Republican presidents. And this is especially true under the current extraordinary circumstances Senate Democrats have created.
“The status quo is unfair, unhealthy, and unsustainable. This president and all future presidents deserve a more functional process for building their administrations.
“Later this week, every senator will have the chance to vote for these common-sense changes. I sincerely hope that, as in 2013, the Senate can make these reforms through bipartisan regular order. Because the current situation cannot stand — and it won’t.”
Related Issues: Nominations, Judicial Nominations, Senate Democrats