Remember the Senate showdown in mid-July that nearly ended the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster rule? A major cause of it was President Obama’s re-nomination of labor union lawyer Richard Griffin to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Republicans lost that fight. The final deal gave Democrats exactly what they wanted, reviving the then-crippled labor law enforcement board by allowing votes on a full slate of pro-union NLRB nominees as well as other top presidential appointees like Labor Secretary.
|It was never clear why Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took the NLRB fight to the brink or what he hoped to get by doing so|
But Obama dropped Griffin’s nomination and that of another board member, Sharon Block, so GOPers declared a victory. “The president is going to send us two new names. That’s what we asked for. I don’t know how we caved,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said at the time.
Well, here's how, Senator: Griffin isn't leaving the NLRB. Obama tapped him as its general counsel. That's not a demotion, either, since it is also a powerful position. It was then-General Counsel Lafe Solomon, not the board, who initiated the NLRB's controversial complaint against Boeing for building a new plant in right-to-work South Carolina.
The full Senate must still approve Griffin’s appointment, but there is little indication of any resistance. So Democrats will likely get what they wanted and get to rub it in, too.
It is not clear the GOP could ever have won this fight, though, because they had so little leverage and no endgame. “Standing firm,” as activists encourage, wouldn't have changed that.
The filibuster fight, however, certainly demonstrates why Republicans must think more strategically about these battles.
The NLRB was effectively shut down in January when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Griffin and Block's recess appointments were unconstitutional, leaving the labor board without a quorum.
Obama then re-nominated all NLRB members, including Block and Griffin. Republicans --- not anxious to revive the board --- filibustered.
Big Labor leaned hard on Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who by June had the votes to end the filibuster.
That's when Republicans should have cut a deal. They had kept the pro-labor NLRB in limbo for six months by that point, ordinarily a savvy legislative maneuver.
A conservative NLRB wasn't possible since the president picks the board’s majority. Block and Griffin were replaced by two other Big Labor-vetted picks.
Nor did the GOP have much hope of blocking a Senate rules change, which requires only 51 votes. There were 54 Democrats at the time, only a few of whom were reluctant to end the filibuster.
It was unlikely the GOP could rally public opinion, either. That takes something on the level of a Supreme Court pick, not the obscure NLRB.
In fact, it was never clear why Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took the NLRB fight to the brink or what he hoped to get by doing so.
In all likelihood, McConnell simply backed into it by not wanting to appear weak to conservative activists. Ultimately, he reinforced the Democrats’ “obstructionist” line before beating a retreat that was more humiliating than if he’d done it earlier.
“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the next best,” German politician Otto von Bismark said. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight, but it does mean you save the fights for when you have a plausible chance of winning, or at least have some larger strategy.
As the defund Obamacare fight shows though, many on the Right learned nothing from the filibuster showdown.