Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why No Cloture on Kagan?

I'm puzzled as to why Harry Reid didn't plan for and insist on a cloture vote on the Elena Kagan nomination.

For Democrats, a cloture vote would have been easy enough; there's no possible political cost to voting yes on cloture for something that you're happy enough to support on a final vote (and Ben Nelson announced right away that he'd vote for cloture, so there's no real extra cost for actually doing it).  For Republicans, however, a cloture vote would be at least somewhat difficult.  Republicans are pretending that there was no filibuster against Kagan.  In reality, of course, there was a filibuster, because Republicans (by insisting on 60 votes) have filibustered absolutely every single bill and nomination during this Congress.  That really wouldn't change if Republicans, not having the votes to block Kagan, voted in favor of cloture and therefore the principle they claim to support that judicial nominations should not be filibustered.  However, a vote for cloture would be dangerous for Republican Senators, running the risk of attacks from Tea Partiers and others who want maximum resistance at all points, whether or not it would make any difference.

So why no cloture vote?  I really don't know.  There may be some procedural reason...I know that multiple cloture petitions can ripen at the same time, but while I have a fair understanding of Senate rules and procedures, I'm certainly not an expert on all the details, and there may be some obscure parliamentary reason why forcing a cloture vote would hurt Democratic efforts to get things done before the August recess (see, for example, here, although I'm not sure it would have been an obstacle to an affirmative plan by the Democrats to hold a cloture vote).  It could have been part of a deal with the Republicans for some procedural concession.  But it sure seems to me that Reid could have put a few Republicans in a tough spot on this one.

More generally, it does seem to me that one of the useful things that Democrats can do right now, given the descent into crazy by a fair-sized portion of the GOP, is to force more tough votes on Republican Members of Congress.  Perhaps we need a roll-call vote on whether to congratulate Barack Obama on the occasion of his birthday.  Or a resolution establishing National Bike Path Week.


  1. Reid actually tried to file a cloture petition in case GOP shenanigans forced him to use it. He wanted it to ripen to secure the timing of a vote for Thursday. Sessions and McConnel freaked out, feigning personal offense since according to them, no one on their side was going to filibuster. Reid withdrew.

    This tells us two things, as far as I can tell.
    1. You are absolutely right, the GOP didn't want to be in the position of voting for cloture and against the nominee. It exposes their tactics, and it may piss off the far right.
    2. They very well could have used the discourtesy as a (completely ridiculous) excuse to vote against cloture since Reid "surprised them" with it. If sold as an affront to the dignity of the Senate and it's GOP members, the vote against cloture might be a self-justifying proposition.

    Reid, in my mind, played this all wrong. He slinked away at the first fake cry of foul.

  2. The birthday resolution would be brilliant! Call your MC!

  3. Maybe Reid was worried that giving ammo to Tea Party challengers would result in the election of a crazier crop of Republicans than would otherwise happen? It's a little far fetched, but he is pretty conservative and (as I understand it) conciliatory..


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