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Black Caucus Sees Race as Factor in Filibusters, Eyes Rules Change

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Fudge, right, on Monday suggested that race and other factors were at play in Republicans’ filibusters of nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and of Watt’s nomination to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Reid, according to aides, is considering moving ahead with the “nuclear option” to confirm nominations with a simple majority vote.

The potential for a rules change reminded Clyburn of how the vote threshold for filibusters has changed in the past.

“There’s precedence for this,” Clyburn said Tuesday. “When I was a young man and we were dealing with the civil rights issues of the ’50s and ’60s, it was a two-thirds that were required, and the Senate saw that as an impediment to moving this country forward, and that’s when it dropped down to 60. Now we’re at the point where maybe we need 52.”

Butterfield agreed that — “regrettably” — the onus is in large part on Reid to force a rules change.

Leadership within the CBC stayed silent Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s meeting.

Following the Wilkins filibuster, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., chairwoman of the CBC’s Judicial Nominations Working Group, released a statement saying she would “lead a strategy discussion at the CBC meeting on Wednesday on moving African American judicial nominees through the Senate.”

One tactic could be an extrapolation of what CBC members are already doing: attack Republican obstruction of Obama’s nominees — particularly African-Americans. That could boost turnout from a critical Democratic voting bloc in 2014 and undercut the GOP’s “big tent” rebranding efforts.

“One of the severe impacts of [the filibusters], and in large part you see this in the Judiciary, is that the Obama administration has been working tirelessly to diversify the bench, and that means women and people of color on the bench,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group that tracks judicial nominations. “I think regardless of the motivation, it’s having a disproportionate effect on minorities and people of color, and that’s something to be upset about, and I do think it’s going to have an impact in 2014.”

In the Senate, Republicans aren’t buying it.

“No nominee has been filibustered because of their race. I totally reject that,” said Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., whose own nomination for a judgeship was blocked in the 1980s. “If that’s the tack they’re taking, I would be afraid that it would damage race relations unnecessarily and improperly.”

“I don’t think anybody’s given that any thought,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., “because that’s clearly not something that has motivated any of us, from what I can tell, on any nominees.”

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