- Posted March 13, 2013 by
Porter Ranch, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Adventures in Randerland
Despite their minority status, the Democrats had been able to block ten of President Bush’s 214 judicial nominations during his first term through the use of the filibuster. (2) The Republicans tried to portray the opposing party as obstructionist for using this tactic and demanded an up or down vote on these seven unfilled posts when they were renominated at the beginning of Bush’s second term. When negotiations failed, they readied the use of the nuclear option, which would have reduced to 51 the number of votes needed to end a filibuster and eliminated a historic check on the majority party.
Eventually the nuclear option was avoided due to the efforts of seven Senators from each party, including John McCain. Part of the reason given for the Republicans’ participation was the realization that no party holds a lock on control of the government. They knew that eventually the Democrats would be in the majority and it would be the Republicans who would need a method for blocking nominees that they found to be too extreme.
The Republicans who currently run the party would be well served if they kept this lesson in mind as they continue to be the party of “no.” While just eight years ago they were labeling the Democrats as “obstructionists” for blocking 10% of Bush’s judicial nominees, Republican’s have blocked 20% of Obama’s nominees. (3) For the first time in history, they filibustered the President’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Only 2.8% of bills introduced during the Senate’s last term were passed by the body, a 66% decrease from the 2005 - 2006 term. (4)
The Senate relies on customs and precedents. They employ a staff of advisors headed by the Parliamentarian of the United States Senate to answer questions about the Standard Rules of the United States Senate and parliamentary procedure. (5) While the methods they are using are completely legal, the effects will last beyond their time in the minority.
The Democrats are also not immune from having their current actions result in unforeseen consequences in the future. It is easy to trust that while your guy controls the executive branch, he will not abuse the powers that you allow him to take for the office. However, these powers will not cease to exist when the current President leaves office and it is assured that a future resident of the Oval Office will not share your ideology. Therefore, the test of a new power should not be how your guy will use it but how the other party would use it in the same circumstance.
It was understandable, if not excusable, that in the immediate aftermath of September 11 both parties fell over themselves in giving the Executive Branch additional powers to make sure that we were not subject to an attack like that again. However, it is surprising that nearly 12 years into the War on Terror, the party that is usually the most concerned with Civil Liberties has asked so little about these expanded powers. In an even stranger turn of ideology, it is a Conservative Senator who has decided to plant the flag on this issue.
Rand Paul’s nearly 13 hour filibuster on Wednesday stood out in this era of secret holds and failed cloture votes. It was less about blocking and more about actual debating. In his own words:
“I had a large binder of materials to help me get through my points, but although I sometimes read an op-ed or prepared remarks in between my thoughts, most of my filibuster was off the top of my head and straight from my heart. From 1 to 2 p.m., I barely looked at my notes. I wanted to make sure that I touched every point and fully explained why I was demanding more information from the White House.” (6)
I disagree wholeheartedly with Paul’s assertion that we should be concerned that the Obama administration would kill American non-combatants with drones or by any other means. As Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Paul on Monday, “the U. S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so.” (7) However, he did leave open the possibility that a strike could be authorized “to protect the homeland in the circumstances of catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.”
As the President’s chief judicial advisor, the Attorney General has an obligation to deal with all possible hypothetical situations. It is, therefore, completely acceptable to me that Holder included this exception in his letter. However, the time to debate the lines we are willing to cross is now, when we are not currently staring down the barrel of a gun.
During his filibuster, Paul brought up Jane Fonda and floated the possibility of someone firing a missile at her because of her anti-war stance. (8) This is not an action that I fear from Obama, but he and the Democrats will not always control the Executive Branch. There is another party and they are the ones who have a habit of telling me that I am not a real American when I do not agree with their policies. This is reason enough to question the policy on domestic drones.