Senate Filibuster Reform Backed by Norm Ornstein

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein opposed Sebate filibucter reform.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reidmay have just joined by an influential ally on the right in his potential new bid to reform the Senate’s filibuster: the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein. Photo: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy/Flickr

Norm Ornstein, known previously for his disapproval of the so-called “nuclear option” of changing Senate rules with a simple majority, wrote Thursday in The Atlantic that after watching Republicans subject President Barack Obama to record delays for his judicial and administrative nominees, he now sees things in Reid’s way.

According to The Huffington Post, Ornstein pointed out what put him over the edge was watching Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) declare last week that the U.S. president was trying to “pack” the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by trying to fill three vacant seats.

The phrase “packing” was previously being used when describing Franklin Roosevelt’s bid “to get favorable decisions out of the Supreme Court by expanding the number of justices and naming judges who agreed with him”. It infamously failed, and Ornstein said the comparison actually made him laugh.

“I laughed for several reasons. One was wondering whether a senior senator and longtime member of the Judiciary Committee really had no idea what court packing is, or was he reaching for new heights of disingenuousness: How could a move by a president simply to fill long-standing existing vacancies on federal courts be termed court packing?” Ornstein wrote in his letter.

Speaking of the level of GOP obstruction, the American Enterprise Istitute’s Ornstein argued that even though he is still uncomfortable with the nuclear option, the time may have come to use it. And Republicans would only have themselves to blame.

He wrote: “The fallout from such a move is unknown but would be substantial and deleterious. It would be far better to return to regular order, and to the use of filibusters as rare events, not routine ones.”

“But if senators who know better – like Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Saxby Chambliss – jump when McConnell tells them and continue to obstruct nominations, they should expect to reap the whirlwind. And they, and their colleagues, will be the ones responsible for the damage done.”

Meanwhile, Senate insiders have revealed to reporters that they suspect the Majority leader is only floating a new reform battle as a way to get a few more nominations through. But with a conservative like Ornsteinon Reid’s side Rein could cover if he decides to go further.

“It speaks to the current level of dysfunction that longtime nonpartisan Washington observers like Ornstein are speaking out,” said George Kohl, the senior director of the Communications Workers of America, and a member of the Fix the Senate Now coalition that favors filibuster reform. “They know that what we are witnessing is not normal and threatens the basic functioning of the Senate.”

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