It starts with President Obama. We still have not heard (or seen, which is far more important) whether the president will change his go-it-alone attitude toward the legislature. We hope that he will, but nothing in his record suggests a willingness to work with those who do not agree with him.
Even more than the speech he is scheduled to give this afternoon, which is mere rhetoric (something at which we know he excels), President Obama has to follow through with a new attitude of reconciliation toward Congress. He has a great opportunity to send the right kind of conciliatory message with his next nomination to replace Attorney General Eric Holder.
As I have discussed before, AG Holder has been one of the most polarizing figures in the Obama Administration to the point of being the only attorney general in American history to have been held in criminal contempt of Congress. Even last night, as everyone focused on the elections, we heard of some “Fast and Furious” documents finally being released. That is simply not the way to work with the other side.
Up until now, every indication is that the White House is considering more of the same; more polarizing figures to replace the polarizing Eric Holder. Political operatives like Kathryn Ruemmler and Tom Perez have been floated. A nomination like that would be a disaster for the country and for any hopes of improvement in the working environment between the White House and Congress. The president should nominate a consensus nominee, someone who can instill confidence in Congress and in our citizenry that the politicization of the Department of Justice we saw under Eric Holder is a thing of the past.
The same can be said of judicial nominations where former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) did significant damage against Senate working conditions. If you remember, Sen. Reid unilaterally broke Senate rules to change those rules and take away the judicial filibuster (requiring 60 votes to end debates on judicial nominees). This is what is popularly known as “the nuclear option.”
Instead of working with Republicans to reach agreements on nominees, Reid chose the same go-it-alone strategy and trampled on the rights of the minority, doing much damage to Senate procedure.
And the damage is done; you cannot unring a bell. The nuclear option is now the rule moving forward and, with Republicans now in the majority, it would be not only foolish but near suicidal for them to change the rule back and govern under a different set of rules than the Democrats. It would be like one team using aluminum bats and the other wooden bats at the World Series. Or one team needing to get three outs to end an inning, while the other just needs one.
The American people want a change in tone in Washington, no doubt, but letting the Democrats get away with everything they want is not the type of “unity” for which they are clamoring.
No, Republicans should hold the new standard and do what they need to do to work with Democrats on nominees, even if it is harder for them. Americans are not looking for the easy way out. We are looking for a fair way to move forward.
“Fair” is a rare concept in Washington, but not in Middle America. They thirst for it, and they can recognize it when they see it. Doing away with the nuclear option would only mean that conservative judges would have a 60-vote threshold to be confirmed and liberals only a 50-vote threshold. For who would be foolish enough to believe Democrats will not change the rules again when they have the power and they believe it necessary?
There is nothing fair about that, especially when we consider the desperate need we have for good judges that show the proper judicial restraint in their decision making, instead of the propensity for judicial activism we have become accustomed to seeing far too often these days.
Let us pray for the president and Senate leadership as these negotiations commence in the coming days.