Why Capturing the Senate is So Important

With Obama’s veto power, even capturing the Senate is not going to work miracles, but it is still important for this simple reason.

gavel scales law books

If you want to know why the Senate is so important, despite Obama’s power to stop legislation, you simply have to realize how Obama and the Senate have recently begun doing so much damage to our nation: through the courts. As I wrote in September,

Back when Harry Reid invoked “the nuclear option” and made it easy to confirm judges to the Federal appeals court by a simple majority in the Senate, I hoped that this would backfire on him. It still might. But I am compelled to admit that right now, it looks like the Senate has made profitable use of their new powers.

I went on to write about how Obama has made sure his impact will be felt for a generation in our courts by appointing radical judges.

And that’s why we need the Senate. We have to stop the court packing. As Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine, “There’s Only One Thing at Stake in the Senate Race.”

The race to control the Senate is not about legislation, because the pivotal negotiations on any legislation involve Obama and the House. Appointments are a different story, because the House has no power over appointments. The Senate has power over appointments. And this is the power that lies on the razor’s edge.

The Constitution gives the Senate, but not the House, power to approve the president’s appointments to federal judgeships and high-level executive branch jobs. Historically, the Senate operated under an informal understanding of how this power would be used. The president had a basic right to appoint judges and nominees who broadly reflected his ideology, but the Senate could veto a candidate who they deemed especially extreme, scandal-ridden, or incompetent.

The basic pattern in Washington has been, as polarization deepens, the two parties stop following informal understandings of their powers and start using their powers to the maximum legal degree. Senate Republicans realized there was no formal rule requiring they use their power to filibuster only for extreme or corrupt presidential nominees. So they started blocking executive branch appointments not out of any specific objection but to try to force Obama to accept changes to laws Republicans don’t like. They also started filibustering federal judges merely because they didn’t want Obama to appoint anybody at all to those seats. Senate Democrats counter-escalated by eliminating the filibuster for executive branch and federal court nominations.

This is where things stand right now: Obama can fill the judiciary and staff his administration because he has a majority of votes in the Senate. But if Republicans win the Senate, then they can block his appointments.

So this is it. I don’t pretend to think that Republicans always appoint the best judges. But Obama having freedom to appoint radical liberals to the court is intolerable.

So I’m voting and praying for the Senate to go under Republican control.