Christian Whiton: Senate Republicans strike a blow against Democratic obstruction

After more than two years of putting up with the Democratic “resistance,” Senate Republicans finally had enough this week. They voted to curtail abuse of Senate prerogatives and restore the principle that most presidential appointees can be confirmed with a simple majority vote.

In other words, most people nominated by the president for government positions will now actually get a fair up-or-down vote, just as the framers of the Constitution envisioned.

In most previous administrations, the Senate has confirmed almost all political and judicial nominees. The Senate’s confirmation power was intended to stop only those who were patently unqualified.

SENATE REPUBLICANS ENACT PROCEDURAL CHANGE TO SPEED CONFIRMATION OF TRUMP JUDICIAL PICKS

But Democrats enraged by the 2016 election have sought to obstruct the smooth functioning of government at every turn. This was a fundamental – and unpatriotic – break with the past.

After the 2008 election, I was preparing to leave government as a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration. The White House told us to do everything possible to ease the transition and help the new president govern.

The American people had spoken, and our final task was to facilitate the smooth transfer of power to an incoming president who almost all of us had voted against.

Today’s radical Democrats certainly didn’t return the favor when it was their turn to hand the reins of government to President Trump. We now know that almost from the moment Trump was elected, partisans in government were planting the seeds of the Russia collusion hoax.

In the Senate, Democrats were planning a different form of obstruction.

While the Democrats were no longer able to use their large minority to filibuster nominees to the Cabinet and other senior-level positions requiring Senate confirmation, they were able to slow things down dramatically.

By objecting to expedited votes on nominees, Democrats were able to force the Republican majority to waste 30 hours of floor time on debate over even the most noncontroversial and unobjectionable nominees for often-obscure position.

Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have been extremely hesitant to change Senate rules and traditions. But this week they finally had enough.

There was seldom any real debate during these wasted sessions. Often the Senate floor was silent as time was needlessly wasted.

In creating what was essentially a new hurdle, Democrats ensured many nominees would never get a vote. Senate Republicans understandably used precious floor time to get judges confirmed for lifetime appointments, rather than focusing on shorter-term presidential appointees to executive branch agencies.

This is one reason why, for example, more than two years into the Trump administration there is still no assistant secretary of state for East Asia, despite the critical need to coordinate our foreign policy toward a threatening China.

There is still no undersecretary of state for economic growth, despite massive change in the way we trade with the world. There is still no confirmed president of the Export-Import Bank, which makes loans crucial to finance big-ticket U.S. exports such as airplanes.

Some ambassadorships are also unfilled. We haven’t had a confirmed ambassador to the Bahamas in over seven years. While that sounds like a cushy position, it is crucial to have a presidential appointee in that and other important ambassadorships, especially to coordinate counter-narcotics efforts and thwart China’s global effort to influence or undermine our traditional friendships and alliances.

Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have been extremely hesitant to change Senate rules and traditions. But this week they finally had enough. The Senate narrowly voted 51-48 for the change. All but two Republicans – Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – voted for the change.

Without missing a beat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., lamented that it was a “sad day in the Senate’s history,” adding that he was sorry “that my Republican colleagues have gone along with Sen. McConnell’s debasement of the Senate.”

This was a classic case of "projection," where one takes their own conduct and accuses someone else of engaging in it. With the exception of the acrimonious Civil War era, the Senate has always deferred overwhelmingly to presidents who need to staff the executive branch.

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Schumer and his uncompromising Democratic colleagues were the ones who upended that tradition to mount their part of the resistance against Trump.

Republicans have begun to restore the effectiveness of a Senate that was beginning to resemble its classical predecessor just before the Roman Republic morphed into the dictatorial Roman Empire. Let’s hope they keep it up and refuse to defer to an unpatriotic resistance that long ago cast away tradition and bipartisanship.

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