WASHINGTON — In the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart’s eponymous character speaks on the Senate floor for 24 hours in an attempt to block a corrupt bill.
On Thursday, Colorado’s senators voted to curb the ability of a future Mr. Smith to perform such a feat.
Democrats Mark Udall and Michael Bennet each cast a “nay” vote on a procedural motion that would have blocked the controversial rule change, which was designed to prevent the filibuster of all nominations to the executive branch and judiciary except those to the Supreme Court.
As a result of the rule change, each nominee to the executive branch and judiciary branch except the Supreme Court now will need the support of only a simple majority of senators present and voting rather than a three-fifths majority.
Senators in the minority – both Republicans and Democrats — have used the filibuster for many years to block nominees they deem too controversial.
Three Democrats joined all 45 Republican senators to keep the filibuster rule for the vast majority of judicial and executive-branch nominations. The two parties have skirmished over Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), a nominee for the Federal Housing Financing Agency, and three judicial nominees in recent days.
Udall described his vote as a maneuver to get Washington working again.
“Senate Republicans’ ongoing and historic obstruction of highly qualified nominees is unacceptable. This obstruction is allowing a minority in the legislative branch to previous executive branch from doing its job for the American people,” Udall said in a statement.
As of press time, Bennet’s office had not released a statement.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the vote will “diminish” the unique role of the chamber known as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” “It’s the saucer that cools the coffee or tea,” the Utah Republican told TCO, referring to a well-known aphorism of the Senate.
“Today we face a real crisis in the confirmation process, a crisis concocted by the Democrat majority to distract attention from the ObamaCare disaster and, in the process, consolidate more power than any majority has had in more than 200 years,” Hatch added in a statement.
President Obama affirmed the senate’s vote in a rare appearance at the White House. He said the rules change will “change the way Washington does business.”
Yet Obama, a former lawmaker from Illinois, opposed the “nuclear option” when he was a Senator.
In an April 2005 speech on the Senate floor, Obama criticized the then-GOP majority for considering a similar change, saying Republicans had proposed it “because they can get away with it rather than because they know it is good for our democracy.”
“The American people want less partisanship in this town,” Obama said at the time. “But everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster – if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate – then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.”
Senators took the historic vote before 10:30 a.m. MT. In the 15 minutes before it occurred, Bennet and Udall did not lobby their colleagues. Udall sat in a desk in the northeastern wing of the chamber, thumbing through his smartphone and chatting with two or three senators. Bennet spoke with a Senate aide near the three-person desk where senators cast their vote. Then, he retired to a mahogany chair in the southeastern corner and talked with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Despite the historic vote, in the afternoon Senators had yet to confirm the nominations of the judges they had transformed the rules of the chamber to vote on.
President Obama’s 2005 comments in opposition to changing the filibuster rule can be viewed below.