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Going Nuclear: Media on war footing in filibuster battle

I work a couple of blocks from the Capitol, and I haven’t seen a mushroom cloud.

(I did see one on the Drudge Report, though.)

Only the media could escalate a Senate procedural vote to a “nuclear option.”

Now this isn’t to say that the Democrats’ move on ending some filibusters isn’t a Very Important development—important enough to warrant President Obama coming out to the briefing room. But does anyone in Peoria care?

The reason this story makes me roll my eyes is that both parties play the same game. When they’re in the minority, as the Democrats were during the Bush administration, they stall, block and filibuster the other party’s nominees and try to wrap it in some kind of principle. When they’re in the majority, they wail and moan about obstructionist behavior by a ruthless opposition determined to cripple the president. It’s Beltway hypocrisy at its finest.

It was striking that Obama (who spoke in favor of the filibuster as a senator) came out into the briefing room to praise the move by Harry Reid and beat up on the Republicans for “repeated abuse of these tactics” (though he allowed that “neither party has been blameless for these tactics”). He said about 20 nominees were filibustered in the few decades before he took office, while almost 30 have suffered that fate during his administration (that includes several recent judicial nominees).

Oddly, the president used his turn at the mike to blame the Republicans for blocking efforts to create jobs, equal pay for women, immigration and gun control—though none of those issues are affected by a vote that was strictly about presidential nominations, except to the Supreme Court.

Mitch McConnell’s reaction to the “power grab” was to say “you’ll regret this,” and he’s right—the Dems will look at the change very differently if they lose control of the Senate in 2014 or beyond.

The initial news stories play it straight. New York Times:

“The Senate voted on Thursday to eliminate the use of the filibuster against most presidential nominees, a move that will break the Republican blockade of President Obama’s picks to cabinet posts and the federal judiciary. The change is the most fundamental shift in the way the Senate functions in more than a generation.”

Washington Post:

“The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.”

You will not be shocked to learn that ideological outlets reacted along partisan lines. In fact, National Review writer Charles Cooke told Fox News this raises the specter of a “military coup.” (Wasn’t it passed by democratic vote?)

National Review itself points out the “hypocrisy squared” of the NYT editorial page, which supported the filibuster when Democrats were wielding it in 2005. “The more serious concern here is that the Democrats are attempting to pack the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit court, with a rogue’s gallery of far-left nominees.”

On the other hand, National Review backed the idea of the GOP using the nuclear option in 2005, and Editor Rich Lowry called judicial filibusters a “perversion” of checks and balances back when Bush nominees were being blocked.

For Salon, “it looks like Democrats are finally learning that appeasing bullies only enables them. Listening to McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley rail against the Democrats’ power grab in the Senate on Thursday, you almost had to admire their chutzpah and capacity for projection – and their trust that the media would let them get away with it.”

It’s hard to explain to average folks why the Senate has been unable to pass anything important by majority vote. Instead, it takes 60 (and used to take 67 before an earlier wave of reform)—which means plenty of things are talked to death.

But I wish more journalists would describe this for what it is: tawdry tactical maneuvering between two parties that have been happy to pull the filibuster trigger whenever it suits them.

Also, does this mean we’ll never again get to hear Rand Paul reciting “Green Eggs and Ham”?  

Clintonite Wants Bashir Gone

The silence on the left over MSNBC’s Martin Bashir smearing Sarah Palin with his excrement comments has been by and large pretty deafening. But now Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton’s former press secretary, is challenging the network (where she sometimes appears) for taking no action against Bashir.

“Honestly, where do such thoughts even come from,” Myers tweeted. And she used the hashtag #GotToGo. 

Top Twitter Talk 

Mitch McConnell goes nuclear

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.