There's a fascinating article (sub. required) in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal about the state of the Bolton nomination. All the parliamentary niceties aside, the upshot is that Republicans may bring Bolton's nomination to a vote even if he doesn't get approved by the Foreign Relations committee.
TPM Reader TS dropped me a line this evening, noting the article and asking me, in essence: can they really do that?
The answer, I told him, is that if they really want to, a majority, or rather a Majority Leader backed by 51 senators (or 50 with Cheney) can really do anything he wants. They can abolish the filibuster. They can bring Bolton to a vote. Whatever. The senate has no referees or rulemakers who don't work at the pleasure of the majority.
There is a certain logic to the proposition that anything that comes to the senate should go to a vote of the entire senate. The only problem is that both Houses of the United States Congress have operated for more than 200 years by the committee system, which says that that logic isn't the one we follow. Nominations and laws die in committee all the time. Just ask Bill Weld. It's happened, literally, for centuries.
Don't get me wrong. Individually, these rules have been bent or broken here and there. The WSJ article itself notes that something similar happened with Ken Adelman's nomination in 1983. But when you take together the nuclear option business, this new part of the Bolton drama, and other recent developments, you see a leadership (and really, because that's who's controlling this, a White House) which wants to win every time at any cost and is pretty much indifferent to the existing rules if they get in the way.
(Note that the constitutional interpretation at the heart of the nuclear option is ridiculous on its face. But if Cheney will say it that's all they need. We'll get to this point in a subsequent post.)
In a sense this shouldn't surprise us since it is precisely the same mentality and approach that's informed what they've done in the country at large -- the Schiavo case being the textbook case.
It's like I said a couple weeks ago, the Republican party is becoming an anti-constitutional party. They're not comfortable with the rule of law -- inside the Capitol or out.
Late Update: I've gotten a number of emails about this post, each along the lines of, no you can't change the rule on filibusters with a mere 51 votes. You need a super-majority to amend senate rules. In this case, I think my meaning has been misconstrued, though I thought I was clear. This comes down to a difference between can and may. By the rules, the Republicans can't pull the nuclear option. The whole effort is based on a ridiculous argument about constitutionality -- the idea that the constitution requires a vote by the entire senate on every judicial nominee. And they're making that argument to get around the impossibility of getting 67 votes to get rid of the filibuster, as the senate rules dictate. But clearly they can do it. And they just might do it. The simple fact is that there is no outside authority that does or can pass judgment on how 51 senators choose to interpret the rules or how Dick Cheney chooses to interpret the constitution. So, I stick to my assertion that so long as they are not bound by a good faith interpretation of the rules or the constitution, 51 senators and/or a vice president of their own party, pretty much can do anything they want. When you push past the soft tissue of law, almost anything becomes possible.