Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Dean Feels the White House's Pain

David Broder has been talking to White House operatives, and he feels their pain. Today's Washington Post column spends five paragraphs covering "the president's own deep sense of grievance about the Democrats' past treatment of his judicial nominees." Movingly, the Dean portrays the "emotional tone" of White House aides as "they recount their frustration" over nominees who have had their appointments delayed for years because of "obstinate" Democrats.

After drying his eyes, Broder devotes a sentence to explaining that "many Democratic senators feel passionately that Bush has abused the system" by nominating judges who are outside the mainstream. Then he goes on, as one would expect from the Dean, to call wistfully for a "compromise choice," a "politician" who will have "bipartisan support."

But instead of describing the hurt feelings of the President and his men, mightn't it have been more useful to provide an evaluation of whether their grievances are justified? After all, it's hard to know when feelings are genuine, and false outrage is a useful political tool. But some context would be appreciated. How about evaluating of whether there is anything unusual about how the President's judicial nominees have been treated?

Kevin Drum did just that in a superb Post column back in January, and found that Democrats used the filibuster to block Bush nominees 10 times-- more by far than in previous presidential terms. However, Drum noted, the Democrats utilized the filibuster because the Republican Senate majority removed every other option that the minority party has traditionally been able to use to block nominees that they found unacceptable. First, the ability of one senator from a nominee's home state to block his confirmation was eliminated. Then the Republicans prevented even both home state senators from blocking a nominee. Finally, they eliminated a rule that stated that at least one minority member of the judiciary committee had to agree before a nomination could be sent to the floor.

By making full use of these tools during the Clinton era, the Republican Senate blocked far more of President Clinton's nominees than Democrats have filibustered Bush nominees. The Christian Science monitor noted back in 2003 that 60 of Clinton's judicial nominees never even got a hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee as a result of various blocking strategies. So genuine or not, is Republican anger justified? Have the Democrats been obstinate and unfair? You won't find out by reading David Broder.