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Robinson: It was time to push the button

Way to nuke 'em, Harry.

It was time — actually, long past time — for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the "nuclear option" and ask his colleagues to change the Senate's rules. This isn't about partisan politics. It's about making what has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" function the way the Framers of the Constitution intended.

Recently, it has barely functioned, as Republicans abused the old rules to prevent the chamber from performing its enumerated duties. There was a time when the minority party in the Senate would have been embarrassed to use such tactics in pursuit of ends that are purely political, but we seem to live in an era without shame.

This month, Republicans used the filibuster to block three of President Obama's nominees to serve on the 11-seat D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often described as the second most powerful court in the land.

There was no suggestion that any of the nominees — Patricia Millett, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins — is in any way unqualified to sit on the court. There was no hint of controversy or scandal. There was no good reason to reject any of them, yet Republicans decided to filibuster all three. And since the Democratic majority controls just 55 votes, short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster, three long-vacant seats on the D.C. court remained unfilled.

There is a stated reason, an ideological reason and a real reason for this pattern of GOP intransigence, each more bogus than the last.

The stated reason is that the judges are not needed because the understaffed court is managing to handle its workload. This is a smoke screen, not an argument. There was no such attempt to set ad hoc standards of jurisprudential productivity when George W. Bush was choosing the nominees.

The ideological reason is that without the three nominees, the court is balanced: Four of its judges are Republican appointees, four are Democratic appointees. Obama, by naming these judges, is allegedly trying to "pack" the court with liberals. But this view, which the GOP can't be serious about, is a nullification of the way the system is supposed to work. The three seats on the court are vacant. The president who happens to be in office when vacancies arise gets to name qualified replacements, which Obama has done. If Republicans want to appoint more judges they should win more presidential elections.

The real reason is that the Republican political strategy for working with Obama is not to work with him at all. Whatever Obama favors, the GOP opposes. Simple as that.

It wasn't possible, of course, for Republican senators to block every nominee sent over by the White House. But Obama has seen far more of his executive and judicial nominations die by filibuster than his predecessors.


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