One Man’s Obstruction

The topic of the day seems to be GOP obstruction of Obama appointments, no doubt spurred by the president’s remarks yesterday. This morning the Washington Post present two conflicting views.

Greg Sargent wonders if the president isn’t right in his claim that Republicans are being obstructionist with respect to his apointments:

It is not easy to conclusively determine whether GOP obstructionism is unprecedented. But there are some data points we can look at.

For instance, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented.

Goldman calculates his Index of Obstruction and Delay by adding together the number of unconfirmed nominations, plus the number of nominations that took more than 180 days to confirm (not including nominations towards the end of a given Congress) and dividing that by the total number of nominations. During the last Congress, Goldman calculates, the Index of Obstruction and Delay for Obama circuit court nominations was 0.9524.

“That’s the highest that’s ever been recorded,” he tells me. “In this last Congress it approached total obstruction or delay.”

By contrast, during the 108th Congress, from 2003-2004 – which is the most comparable, because George W. Bush was president and Republican controlled the Senate, meaning Dems had to use procedural tactics available to the minority to block nominations — the Index of Obstruction and Delay for Bush circuit court nominations was far lower, at 0.6176.

I wonder whether Dr. Goldman distinguished between nominees weren’t scheduled for hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee which would, presumably, be Democratic obstruction from delays in confirmation instigated by Republicans which would, of course, be Republican obstruction. Unfortunately, Dr. Goldman’s paper is paywalled and I’m not going to pay to examine his methodology.

Ed Rogers, on the other hand, argues that the president has gone out of his way to antagonize Republicans and what would you expect them to do under the circumstances?

Instead of presenting us with an enthusiastic, robust case for his nominees, the president gave us a convoluted, hard-to-follow set of statistics and a detailed, tedious explanation of how he believes Republicans have held up previous judicial nominees. Does the president still believe he can get things passed in Congress by taunting Republicans? I thought David Plouffe and Obama White House aides were freelancing in the last few days in their engagement with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). But it appears that taunting Republicans is a strategy that’s coming directly from the top. Not that it matters, but you get your nominees confirmed by dealing strategically with the Senate — by packaging confirmations with other confirmations or items that the opposition does want to pass. No one in the Senate thinks there is any consequence to opposing Obama, so when the president lashes out at Republicans, it gets him nowhere.

The last time I examined differences in judicial appointment confirmation rates among Clinton, Bush, and Obama President Obama’s confirmation rate was lower than his predecessors but not dramatically so. What was dramatically different was how slow President Obama was filling empty seats. Perhaps that’s changed in the year or so since I last considered the issue.

Back when Democrats were obstructing President Bush, something they have apparently forgotten, I criticized it and, equally, I don’t think that Republicans should obstruct President Obama’s appointments, either. Presidents should generally get their way in the appointments they make. It’s one of the perks of the job. Additionally, as I said back then, although there will always be a majority party and a minority party I don’t think an opposition party, that largely defines itself by what it’s against (the other party) is good for American politics. I’d much rather see Republicans making their case for what they support rather than just blocking President Obama at every turn, by whatever means comes to hand.

Similarly, I’d also like a president who had more appetite for cultivating support from the party out of power but, alas, the American people have decided that was not to be.

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