Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Full Flop
McConnell
On changing the rules for filibusters on presidential nominees

Mitch McConnell on Thursday, November 21st, 2013 in speeches

Mitch McConnell among flip-floppers on Senate's 'nuclear option'

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., and President Barack Obama on changing the rules for filibusters on presidential nominees.

"To correct this abuse, the majority in the Senate is prepared to restore the Senate’s traditions and precedents to ensure that regardless of party, any president’s judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. It is time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, remarks on Senate floor, May 19, 2005

"Let me say we are not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer. If you think this is in the best interests of the Senate and the American people to make advise and consent, in effect, mean nothing—obviously you can break the rules to change the rules to achieve that. But some of us have been around here long enough to know that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, remarks on the Senate floor, Nov. 21, 2013

 

After years of partisan threats and retreats, the Democratic Senate majority on Nov. 21, 2013, enacted a controversial rule change called the "nuclear option."

The change eliminated the filibuster -- a blockage of floor action, typically by the chamber’s minority party -- for executive branch nominations as well as judicial appointments short of the Supreme Court. Under the new rule, the Senate only needs a 51-vote majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority to end a filibuster and move to a final vote on a nomination.

The question of whether to change the rule has long divided the chamber’s majority and its minority. In fact, supporting or opposing the "nuclear option" has been much more closely linked to a senator’s position in the majority or the minority than whether they’re a Republican or Democrat.

This means that both Republicans and Democrats made different arguments in this recent faceoff  than they had in previous iterations of the battle.

Before and after Thursday’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., strongly condemned the nuclear option. He even accused the Democrats of breaking the Senate rules by going through with the change, which was then implemented with the support of all but a few Democrats and no Republicans.

But eight years ago, when McConnell was the majority whip of a then-Republican Senate, he supported invoking the nuclear option himself. Time to take out the Flip-O-Meter!

PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter rates politicians' consistency on particular topics from No Flip to Full Flop. The meter is not intended to pass judgment on whether the change is justified or not. It simply looks at whether they did, indeed, change their stated position.

We’ll take a look back to 2005, when the partisan lineup was substantially different. President George W. Bush had recently won a second term, while his fellow Republicans had a majority in the Senate. (The House was also controlled by Republicans, but the House isn’t directly involved in the filibuster fight.)

In the Senate, the Democratic minority had filibustered a number of Bush’s judicial appointments, displeasing Republicans who started a campaign to stop any more such filibusters by invoking the nuclear option.

McConnell, at the time the second-highest-ranking Republican in the chamber, described his party’s plan in a speech on the Senate floor on May 19, 2005:  "The majority in the Senate is prepared to restore the Senate’s traditions and precedents to ensure that regardless of party, any president’s judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor."

"It is time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent," he added.

The threat to go nuclear eventually went away when a bipartisan group of senators – the "Gang of 14" – signed a memorandum to block the effort. Seven Republicans promised not to vote with their colleagues to invoke the nuclear option, while in turn seven Democrats agreed to no longer support their party’s filibusters on judicial nominees.

Fast-forward to 2013. Now, Democrats held the White House and a Senate majority. The Republican minority had been stalling nominations and appointments by Obama, including filibustering the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. Senate Democrats decided to go nuclear after the Senate GOP made clear that they had no intention of allowing three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to be filled.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., they successfully invoked the rule change in a near-party-line vote, 52-48.

The nuclear option was met with a storm of protest by the Senate Republicans, who took the opposite view of the one they expressed had in 2005.

In a last push before the actual vote, Minority Leader McConnell said, "we are not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer. If you think this is in the best interests of the Senate and the American people to make advise and consent, in effect, mean nothing — obviously you can break the rules to change the rules to achieve that," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Then he added: "Some of us have been around here long enough to know that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot." This acknowledged the time when he was in the majority.

In a press conference after the rule change went through, McConnell further lamented the decision: "I think it's a time to be sad about what's been done to the United States Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world," he said.

Our ruling

In 2005, McConnell was part of the Republican majority that proposed a "nuclear option" rule change. This week, when the Democratic majority enacted a nuclear option, he strongly condemned it. We rate this a Full Flop.