In a different world — i.e., the world the United States knew from 1789 until a few years ago — her 49-37 margin would have meant a comfortable confirmation. No more. Filibusters used to be rare events for bills, rarer for executive confirmations, rarer still for judicial nominations. Now they are more than routine; they are becoming the norm. Holds were not as rare, but the use of holds to block multiple nominees for not weeks or months but years or until death, were not typical; now they are the standard. Democrats were mischief-makers in the George W. Bush years; Republicans in the Barack Obama years have become recidivist hard-core offenders.
This goes beyond partisan polarization to damage to the fabric of governance and worse — to damage to the vital interests of the United States. U.S. relations with Russia are at a crucial point across a range of foreign policy, commercial, human rights and other issues — and our remarkably well-qualified and tough-minded nominee for the ambassador post, Michael McFaul, has been held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) despite those qualifications, leaving the post vacant and U.S. interests far less well-served than the country needs and deserves. With Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s illness, our ability to influence policy and governments in our own hemisphere is at a critical point—and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has held up not just Aponte but our ambassador to the critical country of Equador, leaving national interest less well-served. In a revolting display of partisan narrow-mindedness, our ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, a courageous and distinguished foreign service veteran who put his life on the line when the uprisings against the Bashar Assad government began, went for months in limbo before the Senate GOP released the holds and let him be confirmed.
Kudos to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has worked for years to reform the nomination and confirmation process and walked the walk by voting for cloture on the Eisen and Aponte nominations. The opposite of kudos to GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and others who once were champions of good governance and have also spoken out about the craziness of the current confirmation process but fell into line on the Aponte vote. And shame on a Senate which went from blocking a well-qualified nominee for an appeals court judgeship via filibuster to blocking a superbly qualified nominee for the consumer bureau, to yet another in a series of ambassadors stymied via holds and filibusters. This is no way to govern.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.