GOP Downplays Filibuster Victory

Posted May 13, 2009 at 6:29pm

Despite the first filibuster of an Obama administration nominee on Wednesday, Senate Republicans warned that conservatives shouldn’t get their hopes up for a similar show of discipline during the upcoming debate over a Supreme Court nominee.

Instead, they attributed the unexpected floor victory to the Republican Conference’s united front on procedural issues more than anything else.

On a party-line 57-39 vote, Republicans successfully blocked a final vote on the nomination of David Hayes for deputy secretary of Interior amid complaints that the Interior Department has refused to turn over information regarding the cancellation of oil and gas leases in Western states.

Republicans said that while the result demonstrated their ability to stand firm, it is unlikely to be replicated in instances where procedural issues are not the primary concern.

“I wouldn’t make too much out of this. … I think it’s gotten a little bit blown out of portion,— a Senate GOP leadership aide said, explaining that there was neither a major push for the filibuster by leadership nor an attempt to make a broader political statement about the GOP’s ability to blockade the Senate floor.

Rather, Senate Republicans followed the lead of Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who opposed the nomination after charging that the Interior Department didn’t adequately explain its decision to cancel the leases.

“It has nothing to do with [the nominee], it has to do with what’s going on in the department,— said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted against invoking cloture and moving to a final vote on the nomination.

One GOP aide pointed to a November letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), signed by the entire Republican Conference, on the need for a more open legislative process.

In the letter, Republicans complained that Reid repeatedly used parliamentary tactics to block GOP amendments during the 110th Congress and warned they would stand together in opposition to a similar effort this year.

“As a caucus, Republicans will insist on our basic right to participate in the legislative process. The Republican Conference intends to protect the Senate’s history of full and open consideration of major legislation, which includes a fair amendment process and the opportunity for debate,— the Republican Senators wrote.

[IMGCAP(1)]According to the aide, Wednesday’s filibuster demonstrated that Republicans would extend this principle to consideration of executive branch nominations.

If Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “or anyone else in the administration believes they can ignore the concerns of Americans represented by Republican Senators, they are making a regrettable mistake. They may have calculated that they no longer had to respond to official letters or answer tough questions, but today’s vote is a subtle reminder why that is not a good idea,— the GOP leadership aide said.

Republican Senators promised similar actions if the administration — particularly regulatory departments and agencies like Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency — withhold information from GOP lawmakers.

“I think that if that is going to be the M.O. of the administration when it comes to energy policy, there’s probably going to be more scrutiny given. I don’t know if we’ll have votes like we had today, but we’re not going to let it go quietly,— Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said.

Democratic sources strongly rejected the charge that Salazar and his department had ignored GOP information requests. One source said Salazar “made every attempt— to meet Bennett’s demands and charged that the Republican had “slow-walked— his own responses.

But Democrats acknowledged that the filibuster did not appear to be political in nature or based on any difference between Republicans and Hayes over his philosophy.

“The vote on David Hayes has nothing to do with David Hayes. What we have is a classic hostage-taking,— Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said at a news conference following the vote.

A Democratic leadership aide, noting that most Republican Senators have either said they support Hayes or have no problem with him as a nominee, called the filibuster an act of blackmail.

At least 18 executive nominations are awaiting consideration on the Senate floor.

Reid pledged earlier this week to move the nominations of Hayes, Craig Fugate, nominated to be administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Cameron Kerry, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) brother and Obama’s pick for Commerce Department counsel, before adjourning May 22 for a weeklong recess.

Fugate unanimously cleared the chamber on Tuesday, and Hayes’ nomination could be brought up again next week.

“If I have to wait until Al Franken comes, he’s going to be confirmed. We’re going to confirm David Hayes,— Reid said in a floor statement before the confirmation vote.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.