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Preserving Senate Rules and Precedents

Having served in the House of Representatives for nearly 10 years, I often get asked what the biggest difference is between the two chambers. In the House the majority rules, with limited opportunity for the minority to have an impact. In the Senate, however, there are many rights afforded to the minority. The filibuster is a perfect example. A filibuster doesn’t have to be the talking-type famously utilized by Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Senate rules permit a senator—or a group of senators—to require three-fifths of the chamber which is 60 Senators, to agree to move a bill or a nomination forward. This requirement, unique to the Senate, ensures the majority and minority have to work together. Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought Washington to a halt by threatening to take that option away from the minority by invoking the “nuclear option,” which would require a simple majority vote on confirmation of cabinet and agency appointments by the executive branch instead of the 60 needed under the current rule. Fortunately we were able to preserve these rights. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the Senate the exclusive right to provide advice and consent to the president on treaties and nominations including Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, and ambassadors. Having a conversation about the qualifications of people who are representing the U.S. and overseeing our agencies is an important role of the chamber that ensures the President is surrounded by good advisors who are well qualified – making the Senate’s advice and consent role vital to our republic.

The Senate Majority Leader threatened to change the way the Senate operates because of a false assertion that the President’s nominees have been treated unfairly.

The numbers tell a different story. According to the Congressional Research Service, President Obama’s cabinet nominees are, on average, moving from announcement to confirmation faster than the two previous Presidents. The vast majority of confirmations go through with ease. Overall the Senate has confirmed 199 of President Obama’s lower-court judges and has defeated only two. In fact out of more than 1,560 confirmations only four nominees have been rejected.

What may be most ironic about this is that 67 votes are needed to have a rule change, but finding that number of my Senate colleagues to support this will be impossible. In order to change the rules, the Majority would have to break the rule. No party should be using this tactic to gain leverage at the expense of the American public. I was happy to join my colleagues in finding a solution to avoid a change to the Senate filibuster – for now, and allow votes on seven of the President’s nominees. This is good for the proper functioning of the Senate, the voices of all Americans and the long-term health of our country. As the world’s most deliberative body, we can continue to work to resolve our differences and find solutions so we will continue to be the greatest, freest nation the world has ever known.

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