MANCHESTER, NH - APRIL 12: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the Freedom Summit at The Executive Court Banquet Facility April 12, 2014 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Freedom Summit held its inaugural event where national conservative leaders bring together grassroots activists on the eve of tax day. Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Republican Tantrum Damages Government

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics. A political scientist, he previously wrote "A Plain Blog About Politics." He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012."
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The good news? Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has dropped his mostly-meaningless holds on State Department nominations.

The bad news? Senate Republicans continue to impose an across-the-board virtual hold on every executive branch nomination.

Having invoked the "nuclear option," which makes judicial and executive branch nominations subject to a simple majority vote, Senate Democrats now have the votes to force confirmation of any particular nominee as long as they remain united. However, Republican foot-dragging has created a backlog of more than 100 nominees, almost none of whom are controversial, and some of whom have been waiting since January for Senate floor action.

Normally, with an August recess looming, dozens of nominations would be bundled together and confirmed in bulk. After all, as long as there's no controversy (and almost all of these nominees will be confirmed unanimously once they get a vote), there's no reason that the Senate couldn't move quickly on them. But these days, Republicans withhold the unanimous consent needed to expedite nominations, allowing only a handful of nominations to reach the Senate floor each week. Republicans don't force cloture votes, or even demand time-consuming recorded votes, on every executive branch nomination. But neither will they let them proceed unhindered. Filibustering everything remains standard Republican operating procedure.

I understand that Republicans are upset about the Democrats' filibuster reform. It has robbed them of leverage over nominations -- even if it's entirely their own fault for having abused that leverage. But Republicans aren't harming Senate majority leader Harry Reid by blocking nominations. They're harming the functioning of the U.S. government. (Perhaps it might be nice to have ambassadors appointed in a few important nations?) And they are needlessly, cruelly, messing with people's lives. On top of all that, they're eliminating the leverage of individual Senators. As Cruz (maybe) just learned, there's no point putting an individual hold on a nomination that is already being held up by the entire Republican caucus.

And why? For the sake, as far as I can tell, of a tantrum.

It's an embarrassment to the Senate and to the Republican Party. It's well past time for Republicans to get over it and move on.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at