We're About to Find Out If the Senate Is Working Again

| Thu Jan. 16, 2014 6:55 PM EST

Now that Democrats have done away with the filibuster for nominations, how are we doing on getting vacancies filled? Jonathan Bernstein is tentatively optimistic:

There's some movement on judges today, with the Senate Judiciary Committee sending 29 nominations, including five appeals court picks, to the full Senate....We’ll see, when the Senate returns in February, just how committed Republicans are to delaying and obstructing these future judges....Cloture procedures, which can eat up plenty of Senate floor time, are still in place for both judicial and the even more numerous executive-branch nominations.

Republicans are not “shutting down” the Senate; for example, they aren’t insisting that bills be read aloud. They did, however, drag out nominations back in December after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear, which meant that while Democrats were able to power through high-profile positions, lower-priority ones were held over to this year. It’s still not clear to what extent Republicans will continue to obstruct; as Twitter-based nominations maven @Mansfield2016 points out, we’ll know more after Reid tries to confirm some low-level executive-branch nominations through unanimous consent later today.

If Republicans insist on cloture for every nominee, it will tie the Senate in knots since it eats up a few days of time to work through each cloture vote. Democrats will win them eventually now that it only takes 51 votes, but they can't afford to spend two months of floor time in order to confirm 29 nominees. So if Republicans play hardball, they could still block most of Obama's nominees.

It only takes one senator to demand cloture, so who knows what will happen? But my guess is that Republicans will let most of the nominations through. If they demand cloture votes, all that will happen is that Democrats will go ahead and confirm the nominees that conservatives hate the worst and let the others slide. That's a net loss. Besides, a Republican will be president someday. At this point, with the initial outrage over the rules change mostly spent, they might prefer to just go along with the new precedent. We'll see.

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