Rising above politics should not be a one-way street

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Rising above politics should not be a one-way street when it comes to allowing a president of the opposing party to staff his or her government.
On March 14, the Democratic Leader came to the floor, and said the following words, “There are times when loyalty to America, to our Constitution, to our principals, what has made this country great, should lead members to rise above and rise to the occasion.” He was talking about the vote on the National Emergency Declaration that President Trump made. The Democratic Leader continued, “I hope, and I pray that this moment is one of those times when members choose country over party, and when members rise above politics for the sake of fidelity to our constitutional principles and this great United States of America.”
So later that day, 12 of us did just that. We voted for the resolution to overturn the declaration of emergency, or as I have explained to many of my constituents, I voted for the Constitution. A month or so earlier, we were encouraged by the Democratic Leader and our friends on the other side to vote to open the government. Same sort of speech, same opportunity to rise above politics. Six of us did.
The most important, perhaps the best known function of the United States Senate is advice and consent. Our advice and consent to presidential nominations is a crucial part of the checks and balances in our constitutional system that is established to keep one part of our government from having too much power.
So in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Senators Reid, McConnell, Schumer, Barrasso, Levin, McCain, Kyl, Cardin, Collins, Lieberman and I all, along with others, worked to change the Senate rules to make it easier for President Obama and his successors to gain confirmation of presidential nominees. As a Republican senator during a Democratic administration, I spent dozens of hours on this project to make it easier for that Democrat president, with a Senate majority that was democratic, to form a government.
I don’t think rising above politics ought to be a one-way street. At a time when many complain that the executive has too much power, the Senate is deliberately weakening itself when we undermine our advice and consent role. What’s the result of that? Well, it diminishes our constitutional role to advice and consent because what happens in the executive branch is it just is loaded up with acting appointees who’ve never had to go through our confirmation process.
The proposal offered by Senator Blunt and Senator Lankford would not reduce the number of hours we debate Supreme Court justices, wouldn’t reduce the number of hours we debate cabinet members or certain board nominations, but would divide the 30 hours of post-cloture debate equally between Republicans and Democrats.
So I know it can be a difficult vote in the Democratic Caucus, but I earnestly hope that between now and the time we vote this week, that we won’t be presented with this truly miserable choice of continuing to debase the advice and consent tradition of the Senate, or using the Harry Reid precedent, to change the Senate rules by majority vote. If some of us can rise above partisanship on Article One to vote against the declaration of emergency, to vote to reopen the government, to remove the delay in presidential nominees when there is a Democratic president and a Democratic leader of the Senate, it is my hope that some of my Democratic friends will agree to do that this week, and help us avoid what I’ve described as a truly miserable choice.
Later this week, the Senate will begin consideration of a proposal authored by Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to speed up the confirmation of presidential nominees. The proposal is similar to the proposal that 78 senators voted for in January 2013, which reduced post-cloture debate time for some nominations.

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