The nuclear option: then and now [Commentary]

Ehrlich: "It's time for all of us oppressed minorities to rise up!"

I'm usually not one to degrade my former profession. I still believe public service to be a noble career path. But this week I'm going to make an exception. Last month's events in the U.S. Senate provide the context.

The issue concerns the Senate filibuster, that ultimate legislative tool of the minority party. The heretofore sacrosanct parliamentary maneuver had been much discussed in the recent past, particularly the notion that a "nuclear option" (degrading the filibuster) would bring the end of times. Think I'm kidding? Check out these notable quotes from Democratic leaders:

"Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications of what has been called the nuclear option and what effect that might have on this chamber and on this country. … I urge all of us to think not just about winning every debate but about protecting free and democratic debate."

Sen. Barack Obama

"Senators have used the filibuster to stand up to popular presidents, to block legislation, and, yes, even, as I've stated, to stall executive nominees. The roots of the filibuster are found in the Constitution and in our own rules."

Sen. Harry Reid

"I am very pleased that senators from both sides of the aisle have walked the Senate back from the brink and preserved the great tradition of the United States Senate. This is a victory for the American people. It is a defeat for the abuse of power known as the nuclear option."

Sen. Barbara Boxer

"And I just had to hope that maybe between now and the time we have this vote there would be enough Senators who will say: Mr. President, no. We are sorry, we cannot go there. We are going to remember our Founders. We are going to remember what made this country great. We are going to maintain the integrity of the U.S. Senate."

—Sen. Hillary Clinton

And then this one from the sitting vice president of the United States.

"We should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less."

Sen. Joe Biden

These high sounding quotes sought to warn of the repercussions should a GOP Senate lessen the traditional super majority (60 votes) needed to overcome a filibuster.

But this universally recognized tool of the minority is no more, at least when it comes to presidential appointees and most federal judges. Seems the need to "transform" America through the appointment of progressive federal judges intent on legislating from the bench takes precedence over minority voting rights.

Today's editorial pages are chock full of rationalizations from liberals of all stripes. What makes this reaction so interesting is the total acquiescence from pundits typically consumed with protecting minority rights. This "always on overdrive" group of progressives has created a cottage industry; they always recognize an oppressed minority when they see one. Until, that is, the targeted minority is a Republican. Here the angry mob draws a line and parks its selective indignation on the sideline.

All of which seems to fit an increasingly familiar pattern with the Obama Democrats. Consistency is not exactly the hallmark of this group, more like anything for the good of the cause.

Check it out:

"The most transparent administration in history" is anything but. All those stimulus generated "shovel ready" public works projects … weren't. ACORN and its progeny have set the community organizing industry back a generation. The "immoral" raising of the debt limit and accumulation of ever higher public debt is no longer such a big deal. And despite numerous promises to the contrary, millions of Americans have lost their doctors, their health insurance and their trust in government.

And now Harry Reid's Senate has voted away its most valued rule — which means there are no rules —precisely what the framers warned against in building a more deliberative upper Chamber.

What to do?

The only plausible remedy to this progressive onslaught is a big fat mid-term election victory — presently scheduled to be delivered to Harry Reid's doorstep by the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" American public on November 4, 2014.

It's time for all of us oppressed minorities to rise up!

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is

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