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December 20, 2004

Novak: Frist Gettin' Serious About Goin' Nuclear

'Bout time:

Ever since Frist publicly embraced the nuclear option, he has been accused of abusing the Senate's cherished tradition of extended debate. In truth, during six years as majority leader, Democrat Robert C. Byrd four times detonated the nuclear option to rewrite Senate rules.

Thus, Frist would set no precedent, would not contradict past Republican behavior and would not strip the GOP of protection as a future Senate minority. The question is whether Republican senators will flinch from the only maneuver open to confirm Bush's judges.

Alas, yes, that has always been the question, and that question remains regrettably open to debate.

Frist drew a line in the sand Nov. 11 in addressing the conservative Federalist Society: ''One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end.'' The way he indicated was a rules change -- the nuclear option.

That generated speculation that, when the new Senate convenes Jan. 4, the Republican leadership will propose a rules change. Reid, the Senate's reigning master of parliamentary tactics, has promised to ''screw things up'' by bringing the chamber's activities to a standstill. Frist would only tell me he wants ''a full set of options, ready and available.'' However, Senate sources believe Frist will bide his time on opening day and wait to make a point of order to change the rules.

This is precisely what Byrd did as majority leader, as explained in an article by Martin Gold and Dimple Gupta to be published in the January issue of the Harvard Journal on Law and Public Policy. They write that Byrd ''developed four precedents that allowed a simple majority to change Senate procedures governing debate without altering the text of any standing rule.'' In each case, Byrd successfully overcame dilatory tactics by the Republican minority.

Let's stop calling it the nuclear option, which sounds pretty scary, and start calling it the Robert Byrd Option.

The man likes to put his fucking name on everything in West Virginia anyhow; I'm sure he wouldn't mind having a rule-change named after him too.

And the cost to the public for this particular bit of Byrd-branding? Nada.


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posted by Ace at 01:04 PM

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