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Dodd Warns Against Nuclear Option on Nominations

Former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd is warning his former colleagues against using the nuclear option to curb filibusters in the Senate, reprising part of his farewell speech.

Speaking on a panel at the Brookings Institution, the retired Connecticut Democrat turned Motion Picture Association of America head said he agrees that the Senate is going through an awful period in terms of cloture motions filed and institutional gridlock, but he urged caution for when the tide turns.

As is to be expected from a former Nutmeg State senator, Dodd cited the wisdom of Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth in crafting the Connecticut Compromise that led to the bicameral legislature.

(Senate Historical Office)
(Senate Historical Office)

“There have been brilliant periods, and there have been periods that are dreadful patches, and we’re in a — very bad patch right now,” he said.

“I hope you don’t confront the United States Senate that’s been basically so neutered in the process it looks like a unicameral process here, just a mirror reflection of the House of Representatives,” Dodd said.

Dodd’s comments came amid renewed talk by Democrats of a rules change standoff this summer.

“You’re going to take an institution that’s given us the kind of protections against some very bad ideas historically because there was a place where we had to think twice about what you were doing,” Dodd said.

He noted that, even without additional retirements or incumbent defeats in 2014, a majority of the chamber will be first-term senators after the midterm elections.

“You learn the rhythms of the institution,” Dodd told the audience at Brookings. “It’s not governed by rules per se, but rather the willingness of 100 people to sit together to try and achieve some common point of view.

“Before people run and decide that — it’s never going to get better, that this is the worst time ever in a sense, we need to remind ourselves there have been other periods, and they come back,” Dodd said. “And each generation has to discover how it operates and functions in its time.”

Many of the lawmakers on the Democratic side newer to the chamber ran on a platform supporting overhauling the rules. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is among that group. She ran for the Senate in no small part because of the difficulty getting a director confirmed for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established by the financial regulator law that has Dodd’s name.

Senate Republicans say that no one should be confirmed as director of the CFPB until structural changes are made to that organization. The current nominee for the post, Richard Cordray, received a recess appointment that’s become constitutionally suspect following federal appeals court rulings invalidating decisions by the National Labor Relations Board made by similar intrasession recess appointees.

GOP senators filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court Tuesday seeking the high court to take up the NLRB matter. Those 45 senators say, in part:

By making principal-officer appointments without the Senate’s approval—when the chamber decided not to “Recess,” but instead held regular meetings, as its records attest—the President claimed both of these bedrock Senate powers for himself. Indeed, the Executive has maintained that the President may deem the Senate in a de facto “Recess” whenever in his view it is “unavailable” (C.A. Respondent’s Br. 61) to confirm his nominees. And the President himself made clear how elastically he interprets ‘availability’: He admittedly resorted to recess appointments in January 2012 not because the Senate was unable to give an answer on nominations, but because he did not like the answer he received.

“I think you ought to look at who gets confirmation. I’m wondering whether or not you have to have Senate confirmation of ambassadors and a lot of other things today that aren’t plenipotentiary any longer,” he said. “They can communicate with each other on cellphones, minute-by-minute.”

Plenipotentiary isn’t a word often used in a sentence, but in the context of foreign affairs, it refers to ambassadors having full authority of the U.S. government at their posts overseas.

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