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May 18, 2005


Interesting post, RonK. I ultimately don't buy what you suggest, though. 1.) the N.O. has a fait accompli quality to it regardless of its passing or failing; much of the damage is already done. Just seriously suggesting/threatening the N.O. changes the nature of the Senate, at least in the near term. Of course actually triggering it would be worse, but just the serious threat of it goes a lot of the way there. 2.) The GOP will suffer either way - nuke option or no; they will get 'credit' for blowing up the Senate if they win the vote, and credit for having tried if they lose it (with the added bonus of their disarray if they lose). 3.) It is the Republicans who refuse to compromise, and the onus is completely on them. I don't mean that in a 'partisian' way, but in a simple factual way. If 6 repubs were to force a compromise on Frist, Frist and the GOP caucus lose just as surely as they lose if they were to lose the actual vote on the N.O. It's gone too far, I think. And anyway, in the event of a 'compromise', the GOP can, theoretically, just try again in the next congress.

Bolton is horrendous, but may not get confirmed anyway, as it stands now. If he is confirmed, he will be a very weak and scrutinized Amb. to the UN. He's a punchline.

I say make the Republicans stand up and vote, let them reap what they've allowed to be sewn, one way or another. It's inevitable. Six Republican Senators have to be the 'grown-ups'. It's a little absurd for us to continually try to find compromise from a position of weakness with people who won't compromise with us. As I said in the other post, the N.O. is about a refusal to compromise - that's what it means. It's next to impossible to 'save the GOP from itself' at this point. They have to do it. I don't like it anymore than you do, but...I don't see what leverage the dems really have...

Am I just totally wrong here?

Just totally wrong. It's not a political question, it's not about credit or blame, and there's nothing "near term" about the most important effects.

The Nuclear Option does no serious damage until it is exercized. When it is exercised, it effectively ends the history of the Senate as a rule-governed body ... and that has serious constitutional effects.

Bolton's future is uncertain. He is trade bait. Lots of things are potential trade bait.

Lots of R's want to be grown-ups. If we can get them over the speed-bumps, we should. [In the big scheme of things, it's only a minor plus that this makes Frist a laughing stock and Bush a lame duck.]

The onus is on everybody who appreciates our form of government ... and the game is still afoot.

The Nuclear Option does no serious damage until it is exercized.

Well... It may not do long term damage, but it's already trashed 'comity', such as it was.

When it is exercised, it effectively ends the history of the Senate as a rule-governed body ... and that has serious constitutional effects.

You're absolutely right. I am not minimizing this - not trivializing it. I just don't see much the dems can do to affect the situation; they aren't the ones who are being unreasonable. It's like pushing a string. Will giving up Bolton do it? Maybe. For this congress. Listen, I'm basically with you - if Bolton or something else would do it, I'd say 'fine'. But either way, that's the end of Frist. I think Frist is going to resist any compromise. The WH and the newer GOP Senators don't give a shit. You can't make people give a shit, be serious, can you?

It IS a political question, BTW. It shouldn't be, but it is. Don't blame me! These people are dangerous, in so many ways. They need to be wrestled down and out of power. I would be happier if a compromise was, in fact, reached. But I think it comes down to the GOP senators, not something the Dems could offer. Hope I'm wrong.

If Republicans want to act like grown-ups, then they should act like grown-ups. One of the senators -- Schumer, I think -- asserted that about half of Republicans would vote against against what's being done if they could vote secretly, but that so much pressure is being placed on them they'll have to vote "yes."

What kind of pressure short of literally a gun to your head would make a grown-up bow to the destruction of our way of government? Clearly, by all polling evidence, they aren't serving their constituents wishes by ending the filibuster. Therefore, either they're being threatened or bribed on issues of concern to them or they are being told they won't be supported next time they're up for election. Or they're being blackmailed on personal matters.

So if they really are grown-ups, why don't they just go public with whatever is being held over their heads and vote to preserve the Republic.

The same thing applies with Bolton. This man is clearly much more than a bully or an incompetent. His deliberate function has been to carry out the administration's true agenda while a different agenda is presented for public consumption.

Now we have this whole Newsweek thing, with Scotty suggesting its editors should go on Arab televisions and publicly recant. Can it get anymore clearly Stalinist than that?

Interesting idea. Bolton is potentially very dangerous, but he is also more visible than any one of the judges now before the Senate. After his bruising confirmation, Bolton will be under tremendous scrutiny at the UN. If Bolton screws up, or if he is the bearer of a really bad policy decision, all the R's who voted for him will not only have to live with that, they will have it thrown up at them in their next election.

Bolton, because he is at-will, is less dangerous than a radical-right judge with a lifetime appointment. But he is also more visible. Quite a deal for the alleged "grownups" to ponder. If it weren't for the nuclear danger, it might be worth it. But you are right; find something of value. The real damage isn't done until the trigger is actually pulled.

mimikatz -- The trade is playable precisely because Bolton is so extremely objectionable, and so highly valued by the "wrong side" of the opposing faction.

OK, you're right and I'm partially wrong, but not completely.

You summed up the problem perfectly, here:

The onus is on everybody who appreciates our form of government

Precisely. EVERYBODY. Who has 90% of the power to avoid this degradation? You think Campbell, Lieberman et. al. haven't been trying hard enough? I bet the Bolton Option has come up, among many others. The problem at hand is that there may not be a mere SIX (6) GOP senators who, as you put it, 'appreciate our form of government' - or, in their heart of hearts, they do, but they need to be 'paid off' in some political way - in a BIG way, because they'd be dumping Frist in the process. Don't tell me this isn't 'political'. It's nothing BUT political! Frist and his mouth-breathers have backed their caucus, the Senate and a basic feature of our form of government into a corner. I don't see how a vote can be avoided.

look for something else [other than Bolton] of conspicuous value to both sides

Like what? What do the dems have? The repubs are basically trying to end Senate minority rights themselves, period; if a few will yield in response to dem concessions on some tactical things, why wouldn't they just vote 'no'? I hope there is some compromise, but...the whole thing sounds kind of circular. This is ultimately a conscience vote for the GOP caucus, I think. I don't see how you avoid it. Again, I hope I'm wrong.

butters -- (1) No faction is monolithic.
(2) You only get to play your own hand.

No faction is monolithic.

That is sort of my point (ie, why try so hard to give something up when you don't really have much of anything to give, and odds are you'll win the vote anyway?) As I said, brinksmanship works both ways. If 6 'moderates' either make a deal or vote 'no' the political fallout for them won't be much different either way. Snowe, Chaffee, Collins and McCain are four. So the balance is really more like two, or thereabouts. If you could get Hagel and Voinovich in exchange for Bolton, I'd say go ahead (I'm speculating wildly, of course - and Voinovich is putatively going to vote against Bolton already). But there are others. Lugar, Warner, Dominici, Murkowski. I honestly don't think Frist knows what the votes are, and that the odds are not in his favor.

But I'm not sanguine. I think you are absolutely right, overall. I'm just arguing with you because I'm a nervous wreck and very upset about the whole thing. I'm just trying to flesh it all out. I can't believe the country would sleepwalk into a possible change like this, as we apparently are doing.

.. as the SELF-DESTRUCT timer ticks down, half the GOP caucus is looking for a way out. Democrats should help them find one.

I think you're right in the sense that what's at stake is how the GOP caucus slips, not 'if'. And your seizing on Bolton as the wild card, the unexpected irritant, is canny. I'm all for offering the repubs a way out, but our 'hand' is pretty - well, VERY - shitty. It might be better to fold rather than bet. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that Frist doesn't have the votes anyway.

thanks for the good post and discussion.

The Bolton deal is only a fr'instance ... and a reminder that when nuclear exchange is on the table, it's advisable to have somebody thinking the unthinkable.

when nuclear exchange is on the table, it's advisable to have somebody thinking the unthinkable.

No argument from me on that.

BTW: not to mention Spector and even Lindsey Graham, who has some real spine. I don't think Frist has the votes. I don't think he EVER had the votes. There are a lot of Republicans who want a compromise more badly than even the Dems want one. This will be a fascinating few days....

Furthermore: Even the fairly orthodox C. Crier .

It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

I don't think the compromise will happen, so why bother pushing it.

The many Rs who want to vote against nukes want a compromise if only to make Fristie like them again. But there is NOTHING they can offer Fristie (including Bolton) that will be worth it. Nothing. Note, for example, how he pushed the nukes before the Bolton appointment, contrary to WH wishes. Fristie has gambled all with this nuclear option, and he needs to see everyone's cards.

So there is no way the compromise will happen because there is no way the compromise will achieve its desired objective (which is I think what the hold up is--it's pretty clear they'd be able to get 6 GOP Sens, but they can't find anything worthwhile for Fristie).

Further, if you're a GOP Senator, you've got two options. You can vote a compromise, at which point you will be a tremendous target for the fundies who will still wield tremendous power because Fristie will still cling to power.

Or, you can vote against the nuclear option, thereby significantly diminishing the fundie's power, and forcing Fristie to step down, to boot. You change the entire power calculation in teh Senate, and for almost all (but not all) of the Senators in question, this will raise your influence.

I'm not sure if the GOP Senators can see this forest for all the trees they're desparately clinging to yet. Hopefully they will. But in any case, I think the fact that no compromise will be viewed as successful by Fristie will prevent it from actually happening. If you're going to cross the Majority Leader, better do it in such a way that diminishes his power.

This post has a bit of a long-term view.

You know, the nuclear option POTENTIAL only exists because the exact perpetuating rules for the senate in this area are not CLEARLY in the constitution. Thus this threat is an invitation to the majority at any time. The real answer is to amend the constitution to clear up this filubuster (60%) supermajority issue once and for all in all cases. Everyone understands how to amend the constitution, and once done, it is not easy to do again. Such action removes the temptation cloud from the majority to do this on the quick!

To me, it's all about the moderates voting their self-interest AND the long-term interest of their party. Specter is old enough to see it, so is Warner. Hagel's unpredictable. Collins is reasonable. The rest?

emptywheel -- Perhaps I was not clear. The point of the Bolton play is not to cut a deal with Frist, or to rehabilitate the 6+6 compromise.

The first consequence is, by grand gesture, to underline the gravity of the situation ... to induce deeper consideration in responsible institutionalist R's, to accentuate the cold marble goosebumps encounters they will have with ghosts of History in the lonely hours between now and Zero Hour ... and to induce more expansive, more creative bargaining.

The second consequence is to place Frist in a potentially dilatory dilemma -- either undertake serious bargaining to avoid an avoidable calamity, or underline the radicalism, shallowness and intransigence of his leadership.

The final and ideal consequence is to peel an extra vote or two away from Frist -- votes tht already want to be peeled off -- thus obviating the 6+6 negotiations, breaking the standoff and defeating the Nuclear Option.

Various discussants express the view that the outcome almost certain (in one direction or the other!) "so why bother"? The outcome may be likely, but "likely" is not "certain", and we have more tools in our kit. It would be irresponsible to feign helplessness.

I say peel them off and make the outcome 'certain' ('cause I sure don't think it is now).

The second consequence is to place Frist in a potentially dilatory dilemma -- either undertake serious bargaining to avoid an avoidable calamity, or underline the radicalism, shallowness and intransigence of his leadership.

Hm. This is what all of Reid's compromise offers have been for, right? It appears to me that this has been effective on political geeks like us, but not so much on the general public. Frist's response has been to make an offer of "give us everything we want, and then we'll talk" and call it a compromise, and the media report that both sides are offering compromises that the other side is turning down.

No, Reid's offers have been part of a genuine search for outs, in standard compromise protocol (as well as PR positioning). "How about this? No? Well, how about this? Still no? Well, what's it going to take?"

FWIW, Carpetbagger has an interesting post on all this (via Kevin Drum ):

I’m not convinced that the New York Daily News is the most reliable outlet in the country, but this anecdote, if true, is of the utmost importance right now:

Some Republicans at the White House and on Capitol Hill aren’t sold that Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has the 50 senators needed to change the Senate’s rules and end filibusters on judges.

“That’s what we keep hearing: that Frist doesn’t have the votes,” said one well-informed GOP aide. “If he doesn’t have the votes, then that will force him into some sort of agreement.”

This is the biggest political test of Frist’s career and he’s quickly running out of options. This GOP aide told the Daily News that Frist may have to strike a compromise, but that’s not really an option any more. Harry Reid offered him some pretty sweet deals in the past couple of weeks and Frist turned them all down for a reason: the far-right base won’t accept anything less than total victory. It’s why Frist and Reid aren’t even negotiating anymore.

The Bolton nomination has certainly become an unexpected item on the agenda at this point -- and it makes sense that there is leverage there to be gained. I wonder if the threat of filibustering Bolton -- or not, based on NO approval -- could have any impact.

If the trigger is pulled and the bomb goes off, what would be the argument AGAINST a Dem filibuster on Bolton? And what strikes me about that is to image being Lugar, Hagel, Chafee, Murkowski, even Voinovich, and all the blood & anguish I've left on the floor over Bolton. And now it's going nowhere because Frist made us spend everything on the NO? I'd be angry but perhaps they'd just as soon not vote on Bolton.

Another (unrelated, mostly) thought in my head the last day or so. This whole rumble has had one definite effect: it has raised the profile of judicial confirmations among the average citizen and, furthermore, it has linked those nominations to controversy. If, in fact, Rehnquist -- or anyone -- steps down in a few weeks, the normally complacent American public will already be primed to tune into the debate over his replacement. This preliminary judicial debate has made it impossible for any Bush nominee to fly low, even slightly undetected. It's probably also stripped away a lot of the presumption of good faith for a lot of people who, otherwise, would have extended it.

Wrote a letter to the editor today pointing out that we are now in our 10th year of a Republican Congress and this is our 3rd constitutional crisis (impeachment, 2000 election, filibusters -- of course). That seems astonishing to me.

we are now in our 10th year of a Republican Congress and this is our 3rd constitutional crisis (impeachment, 2000 election, filibusters --)

It's all nuclear option all the time. What Is To Be Done?

sorry..unclear. That should've read: What Is To Be Done? (answer:) All nuclear option all the time.

It's late..

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