The Republican filibuster of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary is utterly unprecedented, claims an insistent Rachel Maddow -- providing that you ignore previous examples of filibusters aimed at cabinet nominees.
On her MSNBC show last night, Maddow described GOP use of the filibuster to block Hagel's nomination as seismic in significance and astronomically rare in frequency. Not surprisingly, Maddow got it wrong as she's inclined to do. (video and audio clips after page break)
Here is cable television's answer to the exclamation point describing how something like this has never happened anywhere and beyond --
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour on a day that made history! Today something happened in American politics that has never before happened in the history of our republic. In all of the trials and tribulations we have been through as a nation, through the wars, through the Great Depression, through the time when senators used to beat one another with canes inside the Capitol, in everything we have ever been through as a nation, what happened today has never happened before, not ever! Not one of the 44 presidents our country has had has ever been blocked by a minority in the Senate from choosing someone for his cabinet. But that happened today to President Barack Obama. Republicans in the Senate decided to do something unprecedented to him and to thereby set an entirely new precedent for how the presidency itself is treated in our country, when they said today that even though they could not muster a majority of votes on their side, they would maneuver anyway as a minority to block President Barack Obama from appointing his chosen secretary of defense. This has never happened before, to anyone, ever!
Nor could it ever possibly happen again! The nerve of that minority in the Senate!
After hyperventilating like a junior-high cheerleader, Maddow shortly thereafter walked it back with a weaselly caveat typical of her (audio) --
In the past, over the years, there have been a couple of token efforts at maybe doing this in the past that got a handful of votes and didn't actually slow down or stop anything. But the minority actually blocking the nomination? That is a whole new thing. This is a fresh hell in American politics.
In other words, pay no attention to what I just bloviated in claiming this never happened before. Turns out it has, albeit during that hidebound, unenlightened era known around MSNBC studios as "BO" -- Before Obama.
Yes, one must travel back all the way .... to the Bush administration for previous examples of Senate filibusters against presidential cabinet nominations. Over at The Hill, in a blog post titled "It's not unprecedented to filibuster cabinet nominees," Will Bennett of Americans for a Strong Defense elaborates --
As U.S. Senators consider whether to filibuster former Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination for secretary of Defense, they should not be deterred by the widespread myth that filibustering a cabinet-level nominee would be unprecedented. In fact, there have been several filibusters and attempts to invoke cloture (thereby ending filibusters) on cabinet-level nominations. Furthermore, many more Democrats than Republicans have cast votes to continue such filibusters -- and such filibustering Democrats include current President Barack Obama and senior Obama Administration officials. ...
Cloture was attempted successfully to end filibusters of the nominations of: Dirk Kempthorne for secretary of the Interior in 2006; Robert J. Portman for U.S. Trade Representative in 2005; Stephen L. Johnson for administrator of the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) in 2005; Michael O. Leavitt for EPA Administrator in 2003; and C. William Verity for secretary of Commerce in 1987. Every one of these nominees were chosen by Republican administrations and primary support for each filibuster came from Democrats in the Senate including, in some cases, current President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry and former Secretary of State Clinton.
Further, a cloture attempt was withdrawn to end a filibuster of Hilda Solis, outgoing Secretary of Labor in the Obama Administration. And by unanimous consent, the Senate agreed to a 60-vote threshold (the same as required to overcome a filibuster) for confirmation of two other Obama Administration cabinet nominees -- Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of Health and Human Services and John Bryson for secretary of Commerce.
But heck, if Maddow feels compelled to shout the equivalent of "Stop the presses!" whenever she's seized by the whim, by all means, shout away.
Later in the same segment, Maddow guest Andrea Mitchell provided unexpected comic relief by pointing out that John Brennan's nomination for CIA director would be "held up" ... even without a GOP filibuster (audio) --
You know, the other sort of incidental but not unimportant victim of all of this is also John Brennan's nomination. Whatever you think of it, that has also been held up until after the recess for very good reasons, many say, because (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Intelligence Committee, is now demanding seven more legal documents on targeted killings from the administration.
Imagine that -- a tyrannical minority of one, and a Democrat to boot, in this most exclusive club in the world. Doesn't get much more unprecedented than that, at least for this week.