In debate over the last few days, Senate Republicans and Democrats have disagreed over whether the controversy over the “nuclear option” is really such a big deal. And the Los Angeles Times “news” pages are reliably right there with the Democrats.
Democrats portray the controversy as an impending crisis, which will turn the Senate into a rancorous institution like the House of Representatives. In a typical comment, Sen. Carl Levin argues:
Using an arbitrary way — presiding officer ruling by fiat — will produce a deeply embittered and divided Senate because it tears at the heart of the way we operate.
Republicans counter that the “nuclear option” is not really such an unprecedented move. For example, Sen. Jon Kyl has argued that the Democrats have engaged in “careless talk” and “hysteria” regarding the nuclear option. Sen. Kyl notes past instances when Senate rules have been changed to respond to the obstruction of a partisan minority, and observes:
Mr. President, what did not happen as a result of these earlier exercises of the constitutional option?
First, the Senate did not collapse or become “like the House” – the perennial (and somewhat condescending) fear of many Senators.
Which position do you figure the Los Angeles Times takes in a news analysis today? Try guessing from the headline: Rancor of the House Seeps Into the Senate.
Harry Reid couldn’t have been more pleased if one of his own staffers had written the piece, which begins:
The rancorous Capitol debate over confirmation of federal judges is not just a power struggle between Republicans and Democrats. It also is a pivotal moment for the Senate as an institution.
If a showdown over President Bush’s nominees goes forward as planned next week, it would mark one more significant step in the Senate’s transformation from a clubby bastion of bipartisanship into a free-wheeling political arena as raucous as the House of Representatives.
But if a group of moderates manages to come up with a compromise to avert the showdown, they will reassert the Senate’s traditional role as one of the few institutions in Washington still capable of governing by consensus.
This portrayal of the controversy, which is common among the media nowadays, is exactly the portrayal the Democrats seek. The issue is simple: Democrats want to retain the filibuster for judicial nominees. Republicans want to eliminate it. Since Democrats have said that any “compromise” must allow them to retain the filibuster, any “compromise” that they will accept will be a victory for them. Thus, it is in the Democrats’ best interests to have any potential “compromise” treated as desirable, and a possible “showdown” treated as something to be avoided.
Using terms like “extraordinary circumstances” will have no real meaning, since they will simply claim that any conservative nomination (e.g. Priscilla Owen) is an extraordinary circumstance. Get the Democrats to draw up a specific list of nominees who would be acceptable for the Supreme Court, for example, and you’ll find that it does not include any nomination President Bush is likely to make. So compromise equals Democrat victory.
But stories like today’s Times story present the issue as though a compromise will be a victory for the Senate and the country — and consequently, the employing of the nuclear option will be harmful to both.
It must be great to be a Democrat and know that, no matter how outrageous your position, the media’s got your back.