The filibuster of three judicial appointees pushed Harry Reid over the edge, forcing him to make the change in Senate rules people have been threatening for years. But there’s another impact deserving of more consideration: Now Obama can fire Kathleen Sibelius.
I’m not sure Obama wants to fire her, but there are ample reasons the HHS secretary should be gone. The main thing keeping her in office was the near-certainty that, if she resigned or was fired, the department of health and human services would be forced to function without a secretary for the rest of Obama’s presidency. Can you imagine the confirmation hearings for her successor? My guess is that he or she would have to promise to undo Obamacare root and branch, and that even then Republican senators wouldn’t let the confirmation come up for a vote.
We’ve seen executive appointments held up before for policy purposes. The ATF bureau went without a confirmed director for seven years because senators had been ordered by the NRA to keep it from coming to a vote. Senate Republicans refused for years to vote on a director for the Consumer Finance Protection Agency because they didn’t like the law that created the position. They weren’t refusing to confirm appointees because they aren’t qualified, but in service of some other goal. That violation of the Constitution’s spirit spawned a constitutionally dubious reaction in Obama’s recess appointments – which themselves may soon be overturned by the Supreme Court.
Whether in the public or private sector, organizations don’t perform well under acting directors. Agency heads should have the backing and authority conferred by presidential appointment and Congressional confirmation.
Which, I fear, is the point of the obstructionists. The disloyal opposition to do whatever they can to make sure government fails – including refusing to allow the executive to make appointments to positions critical to success. That’s cynical and destructive and has nothing to do with the separation of powers envisioned by the Founders.
If a Republican were president, GOP senators would see the importance of letting a president fill his administration. And much as they crow about the “principle” of minority rights in the Senate, does anything think for a minute that if Republicans retake control of the Senate, they will change the law back to its more “principled” version?
Reid’s move was unfortunate. I’d have preferred he do it at the beginning of the year, when Senate rules are traditionally adopted, and when progressives in his caucus were pushing him to go nuclear. But Reid wanted to give McConnell & Co. one more chance to let the Senate do its job. Instead, the Republicans showed their main goal is to do everything in their power to prevent the president do his job, which is to faithfully execute the laws. Harry had no choice.