It would seem to be a rather unfortunate time for Democrats in Washington to make a naked power grab. Americans already don’t trust them with the powers they have amid the ObamaCare crash and nobody likes to see politicians do anything naked. At all.
Whatever one thinks about the Republican habit of blockading President Obama’s judicial nominees – an unremarkable continuation of bipartisan blocking tactics or pure Copperheaded obstructionism – the moment doesn’t seem quite right for the unpopular party in power to start throwing its weight around.
After all, the last time the procedural antics of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made news was in 2010 when he declared a sweeping set of insurance regulations and the creation of a new entitlement program to be a budget bill. It wasn’t. And Republicans howled. But Reid did it anyway. His procedural maneuvering helped rob the beleaguered program of its last wisps of dignity, already precariously draped across the bill like an unconvincing comb-over.
Given that the very law Reid created through chicanery is now suffering a deepening crisis of confidence, it wouldn’t seem to be a good time to shut the book on nearly 225 years of precedent with a party-line vote to enhance the power of the president. And since Americans increasingly believe that same president deceived them to gain re-election, the moment would seem to be all wrong for power grabbing.
So then what’s this all about?
Senate Republicans immediately accused Democrats of trying to create a distraction. If that was the plan, it wasn’t much of one. Compared to headlines about millions being booted from coverage and the administration, a legislative maneuver to pack federal judicial vacancies with liberal judges doesn’t do much to distract. And even if you could change the focus of the political press for awhile, the story isn’t a very appealing one.
And as cancellation notices roll out and the next chapters of the ObamaCare story – lost doctors, rate shocks and disruptions of employer-based health insurance – are written, Reid’s gambit will quickly fade from view.
But the move is consequential. Whatever becomes of the president’s legacy health law, his legacy is assured by being able to fill America’s federal courts with very liberal jurists. Imagine what manner of jurists Obama might be able to see confirmed if he can do so without any Republican votes and even allowing for the defection of 5 moderate Senate Democrats.
This is a huge victory for the president’s political base, which has been roaring for more decisive action to bowl over the Republican minority. Liberal Democrats tend to think of the current Republican Party as illegitimate and therefore unworthy of procedural niceties. Recall that the administration has had to, on multiple occasions, make clear they the president could not unilaterally increase the debt limit.
It’s also a move that all but guarantees a worsening climate for doing anything but confirming judges. This is a tacit admission that the president’s second-term agenda is kaput and suggests that the few broken shards of cooperation that still remained in Congress will be pulverized. On the upside for the president, this will increase the chances of a government shutdown/debt-limit crisis next year, an eventually the currently represents the sum of Democratic hopes for preventing a midterm rout. So there is that.
What the “nuclear option” move – and Obama’s hasty public benediction of it – says is that the Obama Democrats are not feeling optimistic. A move that will disquiet moderates and embolden the liberal activists to whom the president is already beholden to keep ObamaCare lurching forward is the move of an administration and a party that has given up on convincing a skeptical center and returned to ramming speed.
Fire up the base, prepare for months of terrible turmoil and know that if you lose the Senate, at least you will have left a legacy of a liberal judiciary.
These are not the actions of people who expect things to improve anytime soon