Republicans have nothing to gain from planned 30-hour Senate debate, says congressional expert

Senate Republicans and Democrats are preparing for a 30-hour marathon debate on judicial nominations starting about 6 p.m. Nov. 12 and running as long as early morning on Friday, Nov. 14. Republican senators say they want the country to know that Democrats are stalling judicial nominations made by President Bush. Democrats have filibustered on four recent Bush appeals court nominations and may use similar tactics on future nominees.

Steven Smith
Steven Smith

WUSTL congressional expert Steven S. Smith says this is business as usual in Congress; he notes that Republicans have used the same tactics in the past.

“The Republican marathon is unlikely to serve any useful purpose for them,” says Smith, the Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “As a general rule, the Senate majority party does not succeed in pinning the blame for inaction on an obstructionist minority. Only on exceptional issues — say, civil rights in the 1960s — does more than a partisan public become concerned about Senate obstructionism.”

“Senate Republicans are well aware of this, and were skilled practitioners of measured obstructionism themselves,” Smith adds. “Their frustration with Democrats’ success at the same tactic is understandable. The best that the Republicans can hope for is that the Democrats allow one or two more nominations to go forward and that they will have a stronger case for limiting debate on nominations when and if they push such reform at the start of the next Congress.”

Smith is director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Since receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1980, he has worked on Capitol Hill in several capacities and has served as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has authored or co-authored six books on congressional politics and recently a book on the formation of the Russian State Duma. He currently is working on books on party leadership in the U.S. Senate, the nature of party effects on congressional voting, and presidential-parliamentary relations in Russia.