With Senate Republicans poised to use the “nuclear option” to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, will the liberal media hypocritically accuse them of a power grab? In 2013, when then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did basically the same thing, he was cheered on in the studios of MSNBC and CNN.
Back then MSNBC’s Chris Hayes hailed it as “an affirmative win for democracy,” while his colleague Rachel Maddow blurted “This is a huge freaking deal. This is like 3-inch headlines. This is like people who don’t even care about politics really ought to care about this.”
Over on CNN, political analyst Paul Begala hailed the nakedly partisan maneuver by Reid as necessary, whining that Republicans had “so abused” the filibuster that Democrats “can’t take it anymore.” And Begala’s colleague Ron Brownstein approved of Reid’s decision as a forward-thinking move: “The idea of requiring a super majority for the president to appoint his nominees just is anachronistic.”
But the cable network news hosts and analysts weren’t the only ones championing the nuclear option. On the pages of the Los Angeles Times, Reid’s move was celebrated in a November 22 editorial “Democrats bust the filibuster, and good for them.”
The Times editorial board crowed: “We welcome this action not because it represents a comeuppance for arrogant Republicans but because filibustering presidential nominees is undemocratic and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution, which says that the president shall appoint judges and other officials ‘by and with the advice and consent of the Senate’ — not by and with a supermajority of the Senate.” The Times went on to call it “a victory not just for the Democrats but for good government.”
That same day, The New York Times championed the procedure in an editorial headlined “Democracy Returns to the Senate.”
The following is a collection of the media’s most ebullient praise of Reid’s launch of the nuclear option in 2013:
MSNBC Cheers On “Affirmative Win for Democracy”
“This afternoon Democrats took the bold step of changing Senate rules scaling back the filibuster that Republicans have unfairly used to block the president’s nominees. Majority rule will be the rule of the Senate for virtually all the president`s nominees. It’s a move to undo five years of GOP delay and obstruction. A huge moment for the president and his agenda.”
— Host Al Sharpton on MSNBC’s Politics Nation, November 21, 2013.
“And you know what? Democrats just decided they had had enough. After years of fighting about this and pleading and promising and fuming and plotting and threatening over and over and over again, that they would do something about this if Republicans kept it up, today, Democrats finally actually did something. You could have knocked me over with a feather. They called for an appeal of a parliamentary ruling on the floor of the Senate by a majority vote, they overturned the parliamentarian`s ruling. It seemed like kind of a quiet exchange, but in doing that, they changed the rules of the United States Senate, so Republicans can’t just block judges anymore. Judges can be blocked on an up or down vote, on a majority vote, like always, but they cannot be blocked anymore with just a minority of votes. Republicans cannot force that anymore. And I know, as I’m hearing myself saying it, I know that it sounds like it’s not that much of a change, but this is a huge freaking deal. This is like 3-inch headlines. This is like people who don’t even care about politics really ought to care about this.”
— Host Rachel Maddow on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, November 21, 2013.
“I agree with you about this being an affirmative win for democracy. If that is the case, why do we still have the filibuster for legislation?”
— Host Chris Hayes on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, November 21, 2013.
“Let me start tonight with today’s daring attack, the Democratic breakout that could change the course of this political war. Nothing is more daring or more effective than the attack from a defensive position. It’s how Henry V won at Agincourt, how Alexander defeated the Persians. While that’s true of military strategy, it`s also true of political strategy, go from the defensive and make time go on the attack. Well, today, the Democratic leadership struck with all its pent-up fury. It broke through the lines that have strangled every effort to move the country forward, that have tried to kill every nomination, every policy initiative for rebuilding the country’s economy, for fixing the immigration system, for bringing equality of opportunity to the workplace, the same forces that have tried choking the president’s health care law in its crib. Well, as Diana Washington once sang, ‘What a difference a day makes.’ Due to the action of the Senate Democrats today, there will be no more 60- vote requirements to get the president’s appointments confirmed, no more dallying around and delay tactics, no more Mickey Mouse. And with any luck, there will be action.”
— Host Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, November 21, 2013.
“That threat by Mitch McConnell had intimidated on this issue for years. Like the traditionalists in the Senate, I was like afraid what happens when the other side has the power. I recently came around, I guess like the final few senators to the realization that of course they have got to do this, because in fact, when the Republicans have power, and the Republican presidency, the, Democrats in the Senate would not be attempting to use the filibuster this way to that degree anyway....Alex Wagner, my favorite thing said in the last week or so was Chuck Grassley, on the Senate floor, said if you guys do this, then, you know we are just going to when we get back in power, we are going to confirm another Scalia. And, I realize, yes, of course you are, because Scalia got 98 votes in the Senate. The Democrats voted for Scalia, they did not filibuster Scalia.”
— Host Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s The Last Word, November 21, 2013.
Politial analyst Paul Begala: “Why are they doing it? People generally don’t act again their own self-interests and senators know, they know, and I was on the Hill today. I met with Senator Reid. They know the Republicans one day will take office again. Here is the thing. It has been so abused, the filibuster. It can be a very good thing. It compels bipartisanship. It does enhance the rights of minorities in the Senate. But it’s been so abused, they just can’t take it anymore and they’re willing, they know they are handing a weapon to the majority even when the other side is the majority. But that’s how it’s gotten. The statistic Dana cited, it is unbelievable. It is true that in 2005, you saw him. Harry Reid and Barack Obama, by the way, you can find that tape of Senator Obama saying...”
Host Erin Burnett: “I’m going to play it in a second.”
Begala: “That’s what has changed. They’ve taken a tool that I think in our history has at times been very useful, at times very abused. They’ve abused it in an everyday fashion so we can’t even run the government and that’s one of the reasons Congress’ approval rating is 9 percent so you have to break the gridlock. I think they did the right thing.”
Burnett: “And Michael, what do you make about that point? Paul is being very rational here because he is pointing out, if half of the filibusters in American history have happened during the Obama administration. That is pretty awful. That would seem to justify a nuclear option like this.”
— CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront, November 21, 2013.
Political analyst John Avlon: “Bipartisanship has been broken for years now. And the reason that Harry Reid pulled this option is that the filibuster has gotten out of control. We are at a point where the number for example blocking – Republican obstruction of Obama nominees are over 80 that’s almost half the historic total....Detonating the nuclear option is a big deal in an already fractured Senate. But the reality is that things were already bad so let’s not get Pollyannaish about the immediate past.”...
Political analyst Marc Lamont Hill: “But what they also have considered is that elections have consequences. And if they happen to be on the wrong end of that balance of power, they’ll accept the consequences of the elections. The problem is over the last five, really last ten years, but especially the last five, the Republican Party hasn’t wanted to accept the consequences of elections. They have held up, for example, on the D.C. District Circuit Court of Appeals three nominations, purely because they say they don’t think – they think the balance of Democrats and Republicans is good and they don’t want so many Democrats on the court. Well that’s what happens when Republicans lose elections. But if they don’t – they’re not accepting the consequences. So again this is a necessary step....But at the core, because the Republican Party has used the filibuster in the ways that it wasn’t intended, because they have refused to play ball in any sort of bipartisan fashion that they really left Harry Reid with no choice.”
— CNN Newsroom, November 22, 2013.
“You know what, in the long run, I think both parties are going to be happier that this was done than it was not done. The reality is, Wolf, we are in a quasi-parliamentary system with the highest levels of party line voting we have ever seen in Congress since the founding. And in that world, the idea of requiring a super majority for the president to appoint his nominees just is anachronistic and I don’t think Chris Christie wasn’t happy with what happened yesterday. I don’t think Marco Rubio was unhappy with what happened yesterday or anybody else who might run for president. The level of filibuster had reached a kind of an unsustainable level, especially when you’re filibustering not only the individuals but the concept of appointing anyone to the job. Something had to give. If it wasn’t yesterday it was going to happen someday.”
— Political analyst Ron Brownstein on CNN’s The Situation Room, November 22, 2013.
Praising It In Print
“We welcome this action not because it represents a comeuppance for arrogant Republicans but because filibustering presidential nominees is undemocratic and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution, which says that the president shall appoint judges and other officials ‘by and with the advice and consent of the Senate’ — not by and with a supermajority of the Senate. This isn’t a new position for this page. We advocated the nuclear option in 2005, when Republicans were threatening to ‘go nuclear’ to stymie Democratic filibusters of judges nominated by President George W. Bush. In recent years, the original, stem-winding filibuster mutated into a ‘filibuster lite’ that allowed senators in the minority to block a vote on a nominee without having to engage in marathon speechmaking. A once-rare form of obstruction became commonplace. Now a minority of senators will be free to vote against a president's nominees but not to prevent a vote from being taken. That's a victory not just for the Democrats but for good government.”
— November 22, 2013 Los Angeles Times editorial “Democrats bust the filibuster, and good for them”
“In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments. From now on, if any senator tries to filibuster a presidential nominee, that filibuster can be stopped with a simple majority, not the 60-vote requirement of the past. That means a return to the democratic process of giving nominees an up-or-down vote, allowing them to be either confirmed or rejected by a simple majority. The only exceptions are nominations to the Supreme Court, for which a filibuster would still be allowed. But now that the Senate has begun to tear down undemocratic procedures, the precedent set on Thursday will increase the pressure to end those filibusters, too. This vote was long overdue. ‘I have waited 18 years for this moment,’ said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa.”
— November 21, 2013 New York Times editorial “Democracy Returns to the Senate”