Here’s a simple fact:
- In Clinton’s 8 years in office, 61 (perhaps 63) of his judicial nominees were blocked by Senate Republicans.
- In Bush’s 4 years in office, only 10 of his nominees have been blocked.
There’s no puzzle here to figure out. The facts are plain. Despite the fact that Clinton’s nominees were more centrist and Bush’s have been more extremist, The Democrats have blocked far fewer nominees than the Republicans did under Clinton. And Clinton didn’t even recycle his nominees; unlike Bush, he didn’t bring back rejects in order to make the other party look more obstructionist.
Still, right-wingers shamelessly whine about how the Democrats are uprooting Democracy by not simply out-and-out confirming whomever Bush wants put into lifetime judicial seats, no matter how radical, no matter how questionable.
When it’s shown that the GOP was far more obstructionist over Clinton, they switch arguments and say that it’s how the nominations are being blocked that’s important. The Democrats are using the filibuster, and as such, they aren’t even allowing the Congress to vote on the nominees! How evil!
But then, under Clinton, Republicans (who had control over both houses of Congress and therefore did not need the filibuster) blocked most of Clinton’s nominees under what was called the “blue slip” system. In this system, a nominee’s home-state senator may indefinitely delay and thereby kill a nomination simply by withholding a blue slip of paper needed by the Judiciary committee for the nomination to go forward. In other words, Republicans didn’t even allow the Congress to vote on the nominees!
Both filibusters and the blue slip achieve the same end by the same method: delay a nomination until the Senate gives up and moves on. So any claim by Republicans that the filibuster is somehow dirty is hypocritical to say the least.
After Bush took office, the blue slip rule was still in effect–but then Republicans started noticing that Democrats were using it for the same purposes Republicans had! Well, we can’t have that! So in 2003, when Republicans retook their sliver majority in the Senate, they changed the rules (they love doing that, don’t they?) so Democrats couldn’t do what they had been doing. This forced the Democrats to either resort to filibusters, or to become completely powerless. All of this just adds another layer to the GOP hypocrisy.
Another layer still: it turns out that Senate Republicans have used the filibuster to block nominations themselves. In 1995, Clinton nominated Dr. Henry Foster Jr. for a Public Health post. Senators Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, John McCain and 38 other Republicans successfully filibustered the Senate to shoot down Clinton’s nominee. When Clinton nominated the same man as Surgeon General in 1998, Ashcroft again used the filibuster, though this time unsuccessfully. The GOP similarly used the filibuster to block ambassadorial and judicial nominees as well.
So just about every way you can look at it, the Senate Republicans are being massively hypocritical on this issue. They blocked more nominees, and in as many as if not more ways than Democrats. It’s the hit-and-run driver berating the jaywalker for his scofflaw behavior.
But rank-and-file Republicans don’t seem to care about this. It’s outrage time, apparently. However, I don’t see this becoming as big an issue in next year’s elections as such things as, say, the deficit, social security, and right to privacy vs. political grandstanding (re: Terry Schiavo). I think there are enough stains on the GOP record so that the voters won’t as easily forget. And blaming others is how the GOP thrives. Republicans have controlled Congress completely for 10 of the 12 years up to 2006 (the other 2 years mostly in complete control) and will have had the White House for 6. When things are going down the toilet, they won’t have anyone to blame but themselves; no one will be buying the idea that everything is still Clinton’s fault.
Unless the GOP can somehow start blaming Hillary Clinton for everything. After all, they’ve already started.