There’s been much talk in recent years in the U.S. Senate of “going nuclear,” or of triggering a “nuclear option.”
Soon after Republicans filibustered Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Thursday, the president came out once again to issue another sternly worded complaint about the Republicans’ behavior. The Republicans, the president protested, were not “on the level” by blocking Cordray, a former state attorney general from Ohio. Obama is entirely right, of course, but that doesn’t matter.
The problem is that not only do such presidential scoldings fail to scare Republican senators, they lap them up. Watching Obama moan only emboldens his adversaries to do more to frustrate him, not less. The president promised not to give up on the Cordray nomination, and to take nothing off the table to make it happen. That was supposed to be a veiled threat to circumvent the senators once they leave town by putting Cordray in office through a recess appointment.
The problem is that that is an empty threat. Republicans know how to, in reality, go out on recess while technically keeping the Senate in session. They did it this past summer, specifically to block any recess appointments. They did it once, and will only likely do it again.
That means that if he truly is serious about not taking anything off the table, Obama must find some other, sharper stick with which to politically club Republicans into submission.
The president must find something that his opponents truly do care about, some projects back home, some funding for this or that, something, and put his administration in the middle to stop it from happening. Obama must stand up to the GOP bullies, not only with words, but deeds that will make them take notice.
At the very least, the president’s friends across town at the Democratic National Committee need to start writing some checks to pay for some negative ads against those Republican senators most vulnerable to persuasion. These likely would be those Republicans from blue states who have supported the filibusters, including Sen. Mark Kirk, who now holds Obama’s old Illinois Senate seat. These ads, frankly, need to attack the Republican obstructionists in fairly harsh, emotionally driven ways. Then these ads need to be aired long enough, and with enough repetition, that they actually start to move the needle and drive down the senators’ approval ratings. Perhaps if these senators begin to be palpably hated in their own home states, they’ll be a little less quick to jump to a filibuster.
No, it’s not nice or kind, but then, going nuclear seldom is.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as It’s Time to Nuke Senate Republicans on Blogcritics.