Thursday, May 26, 2005

Closer... closer... closer... cloture!

The Senate needed 60 votes earlier today to invoke cloture (close off debate) and send the Bolton nomination to an immediate confirmation vote. It failed by four votes (56-42). Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted with the Republicans -- Landrieu's now 0-for-2 in these controversial confirmations, having voted yesterday for Priscilla Owen. The Democrats don't intend to filibuster the Bolton nomination, but Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has it right: "I don't think we're being treated as a co-equal branch of government." Indeed. The Senate was intended by the Framers to be one of the institutional checks not only on the more democratic House and the executive and judicial branches of the federal government but also on the demagogic tendencies of democracy generally. That is, it was intended to be the repository of deliberative democracy. But not under Bush, who exerts executive authority over a Republican Congress and, through it, over the federal judiciary. To me, the Democrats are defending more than just the filibuster, more than just a procedural matter. They're defending the very purpose of the Senate -- and, by extension, the very core of American democracy -- while the Republicans are running roughshod over the very notion of checks and balances, turning Congress into the legislative arm of the White House and the judiciary into a weapon of right-wing activism. I don't think that's what they teach you in grade school.

I suspect that, in the end, Bolton will be confirmed. But at least the failure to invoke cloture will allow for more debate. And with a nominee this controversial, and with more revelations coming out about his past (notably concerning NSA intercepts), that's absolutely what we need.

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  • Michael,

    I agree with you generally, but as an apparently avowed liberal, I think you should be aware of the irony of your position.

    As you say, the Senate (both at the federal and state levels)was conceived as a check on democracy. Many argued that the original purpose of the Senate was to protect the interests of the landed gentry and other elites. During the sixties and seventies, liberals considered the Senate to be a major factor in the deadlock that prevented major liberal legislation from passing.

    Personally, I agree with you that the Senate, at its best, is a salutary institution and an important check on political passions. But I think you have to bear in mind that what's good for the goose is good for the gander too if one day in the distant future, Democrats are the majority and are frustrated in their attempts to pass their own agenda.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:09 PM  

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