(THE NATION) — During his first five years in office, President Obama faced unprecedented obstruction of routine executive and judicial nominations: sixteen executive branch nominees were filibustered, compared with twenty throughout US history.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has faced more than 400 filibusters since Democrats took control of the Senate; Lyndon Johnson, as majority leader, faced exactly one.
The extent and nature of this obstruction was undemocratic: the filibuster allowed the minority party unique power to halt the agenda of an elected president and majority party. George Washington is said to have called the Senate the “cooling saucer of democracy” because of its deliberative structure, but it was never meant to be an icebox.
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On November 21—after years of protest and organization by progressives in and out of Congress—Reid pulled the so-called nuclear trigger and eliminated the sixty-vote threshold on executive and judicial nominees. This would have been appropriate even if it were majority leader Mitch McConnell clearing the way for a President Romney’s nominees. But there was of course a reason that Senate rules reform was a key priority for progressives. The filibuster was one more tool in the GOP’s belt—along with voting restrictions and truckloads of dark corporate money—for wielding power it is increasingly unable to wield through democratic means.