Press Club Panel Examines "New Nullification" in the Senate

Written by Daniel Weissglass on July 22, 2014

A standing room only crowd turned out Tuesday at the National Press Club for a  Common Cause-sponsored panel discussion of “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work,” a report issued this Spring on continuing dysfunction in the U.S. Senate.

The study details the backlog of judicial and executive nominations in the Senate, including some that have languished for years while single Senators block confirmation votes. On top of that, the report notes that 33 nominees who were filibustered for months, eventually were confirmed unanimously. The event highlighted updated numbers to the report, cataloguing the more than 237 nominees awaiting confirmation.

The panel featured Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, who called for a grassroots, multifaceted movement to fix the filibuster rule, and therefore help restore American democracy. He drew passionate support from Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, who called on advocacy organizations to work on fixing the Senate; no meaningful reforms in other areas can occur if the government can’t function, he argued.

The event’s most barbed commentary came from veteran congressional analyst Norman Ornstein, who said the filibuster has been used as a “tool of mass obstruction” and The Brennan Center’s Alicia Bannon, who argued that recess appointments by the President have been necessary to keep the government functional. Ornstein also asserted that if Republicans gain control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, only one or two of President Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees will be confirmed during the President’s last two years in office.

The Alliance for Justice’s Nan Aron offered a more hopeful vision, noting that 57 judges have been confirmed in 2014, a significant increase over previous years but still not nearly enough.

Of the 237 nominations awaiting confirmation, 146 are pending on the Senate floor with fewer than 20 days remaining in the current legislative session. The panel’s ultimate message was that progress towards judicial and executive confirmations is possible, but that it will take an outside, populist movement to force lawmakers to take responsibility and make the government functional again.

Read Common Cause’s Report, "The 'New Nullification' At Work: Executive Branch Nominations and the Tactics of Obstruction," here.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: More Democracy Reforms

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