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Reality Check w/ John Tracy: US Senate goes nuclear

By John Tracy 6:26 PM April 6, 2017
ANCHORAGE –

Any hope you may have had that members of Congress can put their country before their party is about to be blown apart by the so-called “nuclear option”.

The floor of the House of Representatives has long reflected the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. An unruly mass of ideologues who measure success, not so much on legislation passed, but legislation prevented.

Whereas the Senate historically has been a place where the adults work. In the best of times, it was where skilled lawmakers like Ted Stevens could compromise with Democrats like Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnusson — working across the aisle on big legislation that put the people before party.

But the tradition of Senate bipartisanship is being put to the test.

Senate Democrats Thursday followed through on their threatened filibuster to formally block a Senate vote on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

A filibuster has never been used to block a Supreme Court nomination.

In retaliation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set in motion the “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to break the filibuster with a simple majority vote, creating a path to put Gorsuch on the high court Friday without the Senate’s traditional 60 vote threshold.

How sacred has that tradition been? Consider… Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the court’s most liberal justices, was confirmed with 96 votes in the Senate.

The late-Justice Antonin Scalia, the arch conservative whose seat is being filled, was confirmed with 98 votes.

But that was way back in 1986, when the Senate still functioned as a deliberative body.

Both parties naturally blame the other for getting us to this place.

But at some point, one side or the other has to be willing to end this war of attrition. Because once a simple majority is all that is needed for Supreme Court nominees, future nominees will come from the political fringes, rubber stamped by whatever party is in power.

And the dysfunction that has infected Congress will spread to the high court.

Democrats have no reason to celebrate the short-term victory of blocking the Gorsuch confirmation; just as Republicans should not celebrate the maneuver they’re using to put him on the bench.

As a kid growing up during the cold war, we were taught the nuclear option meant mutually assured destructio, or MAD — as in you would have to be mad to use it.

That’s a pretty good description of today’s U.S. Senate, choosing to burn their own chamber down to put their parties before the people.

John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.

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