Nuclear options

The country, it seems, is drinking in national and international politics through a fire hose these days. So it’s probably practical, from a commentary point of view, to combine issues wherever possible.

The United States Senate today will vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Given the partisan divide in the country, Gorsuch will only get a few more than the bare minimum number of votes needed for confirmation.

Up until yesterday unless there were at least 60 votes in the affirmative, a Supreme Court nominee might not be seated. That was so … yesterday.

A simple majority of the Senate has voted to change their rules to say that, for confirmation of nominees for the Supreme Court, a simple majority of 51 votes could approve a nomination. Thus Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and company invoked the so-called “nuclear option” changing the rules.

This follows from a modified nuclear option of several years ago where former Majority Leader Harry Reid and company modified the rules to permit simple majority vote approvals for cabinet positions and lower court nominations.

At the moment the Senate is continuing the right, under their filibuster procedures, to require 60 votes for approval of legislation. At some point in time that rule might be changed too.

The only matters in the Constitution that require more than a simple majority vote in the Senate, or in some cases the House too, are: (1) overriding presidential vetoes (same requirement in the House); (2) the approval of treaties; (3) votes to convict a federal officer in an impeachment trial; (4) expelling senators (same rule in the House); (5) proposing constitutional amendments (same rule in the House); (6) implementing the 25th Amendment to, along with the House, determine that “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”; and (7) a provision relating to former Confederates following the civil war.

The super-majority filibuster rule dates back to when southern senators and senators from small states wanted veto power over appointees and legislation. At one time 67 votes were required to break a filibuster.

The immediate issue concerning the nuclear option arises as the Republican controlled Senate works to seat Trump nominee Gorsuch on the Court. Gorsuch would occupy the Merrick Garland seat, known to Republican partisans as the Scalia seat. Garland, of course, was President Obama’s choice for the Court in March 2016, ten months before Obama’s term expired. Garland never even got a Judiciary Committee hearing from the Republicans.

There had been some discussion among Democrats about “saving” their filibuster challenge for another time when Trump might nominate an even more right-wing judge that Gorsuch. Considering doing that, if the Republicans were still in control of the Senate at the time, would also require the assumption that the Republicans would acquiesce to such a move. That’s silly. McConnell will run over the Democrats whenever he needs to do so.

Another point is worth mentioning. If Hillary Clinton had been elected president and the Democrats had won a narrow majority in the Senate, we likely would be seeing the same nuclear option posed when Clinton made her Supreme Court nomination. In this highly-charged partisan atmosphere there would probably not be any choice in the matter.

A majority of the members of the Senate previously served in the House of Representatives, a body where hardball politics has always been the way of the world and simple majorities approve nearly everything. George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson that the Senate exists to “cool” the work of the House, like a saucer cools hot tea. No more.

So goes the institution. Elections have consequences.

The other nuclear option

Once again this week the idiot running North Korea has had a missile fired off. The North Koreans have also been testing nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un continues to try to impress or threaten other nations with the possibility of launching a nuclear attack on Japan, the United States, or some other countries.

In response to the latest missile test, co-Secretary of State (with Jared Kushner) Rex Tillerson issued this hard-hitting response: “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Tillerson was evidently trying to fit his comment into the standard 140 charter Twitter style favored by the White House.

The president said nothing thus far. He can take the time to tweet about “fake news,” Arnold Schwarzenegger and to defend Fox low-life Bill O’Reilly, but not a word about North Korea.

We can hope that people with intelligence, knowledge of international issues and some common sense will have control over the real response to the madman in Pyongyang. Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster do seem to operate as the adults in the room. McMaster’s role in pushing Trump-brain Steve Bannon off of the National Security Council, while bringing back the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to full membership on the Council, is encouraging. Of course the shake-up also included adding Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whom CNBC describes as the person “who controls the nation’s nuclear arsenal,” as a member of the Security Council. Perry, though, may be content to just sit in the back of the room when the serious stuff is discussed.

The international community is going to have to do something about Kim Jong-un and his obsession with being a nuclear player.  Trump’s role is unclear.  Hopefully international action will come sooner rather than later.

One thought on “Nuclear options

  1. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds …”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Piggybacking on the commentary offered by my friend Ken Kruly, it is safe to assume that we’ve seen the death of bi- and non-partisanship in the United States. Now, even patriotism is not above petty partisan politics. The news of a misleading strike against Syria was met with virtual silence by the congressional lambs who were not consulted by the liar-in-chief. Perhaps Trump was correct in not seeking their approval. In 2013, President Barack Obama sought congressional approval for a similar strike. 183 Republicans said “no.” As a result, the strike never took place. Back then, citizen Trump wailed and railed against intervention in Syria, taking to Twitter multiple times to warn, cajole, and criticize Obama’s desire to strike back at Syria. So it isn’t just Supreme Court nominees sowing congressional wild oats.

    Trump’s actions come at a time that makes one wonder if he isn’t ripping a page out of the GWB songbook. Faced with the lowest approval ratings in presidential history (and don’t kid yourselves about the impact of such ratings on this infantile ego) and a mounting crisis regarding Trumpkins collusions with Russia, Trump could be seeking the designation of wartime president to jack up his ratings. It worked wonders for Bush.
    Steve Banko


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