Monday, March 07, 2005

Byrd's Nuclear Option

A Wall Street Journal editorial reviews several uses of the "nuclear option" or tactics very similar by then-majority leader Robert Byrd to stop filibusters of presidential appointments. It should not be surprising to learn that these tactics were not called the "nuclear option" or anything else, other than normal Senate proceedings.
The example most closely analogous occurred in March 1980, when Mr. Byrd mounted a charge to eliminate the possibility of a double filibuster--first on a motion to proceed to a nomination and then on a nomination itself. He wanted to push through the confirmation of Robert White as ambassador to El Salvador and, as Mr. Gold and Ms. Gupta explain, "this well established procedure presented potential difficulties."

And so Mr. Byrd moved to get rid of the first filibuster opportunity--debate on motions to proceed to nominations. GOP Senator Jesse Helms objected and the presiding officer ruled in Mr. Helms's favor. Mr. Byrd appealed, and the Senate voted 54-38 to overturn the chair. The rule change went into effect.

Also closely analogous to today is Mr. Byrd's threat a year earlier to deploy the nuclear option if a change he had proposed to Rule XXII was filibustered. "I want to change the rules in an orderly fashion . . ." he said. But, "if I have to be forced into a corner to try for a majority vote, I will do it because I am going to do my duty as I see my duty." In the end, the threat of going nuclear was enough to break the opposition.

The worst part is that the term "nuclear option" to describe a procedure with lots of precedents to be used against an obstructionist procedure with no precedents was not coined by Senator Byrd or any other Democrat. It was coined by Senator Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi, at a time when he was not waxing nostalgic for segregation. I am so proud of the blogosphere for helping to block this idiot from the Senate Majority Leadership (I was not a blogger at the time).

The MSM is arguing that if the Republicans resort to the "nuclear option," it will force the Democrats to become obstructionist. Do they think that their readers have been living in a cave for the last four years, with no access to news. How much more obstructionist can the Democrats possibly become? When you are 99.9% there, the threat to go 100% should not scare one's opponents. Unfortunately, Republican senators scare pretty easily.


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