When the Shoe Fits

Talk about the shoe being on the other foot.

Senate Democrats are hauling out cots and preparing for an around-the-clock session tonight to bash Republicans for blocking a vote on a proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq. They’re solemnly intoning that the all-nighter is a critical way of calling attention to obstructionist Republicans who are blocking the will of the majority by refusing to end the debate and vote. And the Republicans are blasting right back that the all-nighter is nothing more than a stunt that will solidify their resolve.

Sound familiar? It is. We heard it all in 2003, when Republicans (then in control of the Senate) used a similar ploy—right down to the cots--against Democrats who were blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees. Ineffectual Republican leaders had sat by for months while energized Democrats picked off Bush’s judges—until the Big Night when they had the sleepover on the Hill. They hammered those irksome Democrats in the minority who were mounting the first-ever filibuster of appellate court judges.

And then everyone went home, and Democrats kept their resolve. The filibuster would prove enormously effective and keep some of Bush's nominees—Estrada, Kulh, Owen, Brown--from subsequently making it to the Supreme Court when the President had a chance to fill two vacancies.

But of course, in 2003, Republicans and Democrats had a different spin on the whole all-night session/filibuster thing. It’s almost like we’re looking at a big cartoon with talking points in those quote balloons above the senators’ heads. Someone sneaked in and switched the quotes all around.

Here’s what then-Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid had to say back in 2003, when Republican leaders announced their all-nighter to protest the Democrats’ refusal to allow a vote on Bush’s appellate court judges: “I have never seen such amateur leadership in all the time I’ve been in Congress.”

Here’s what Reid—now the Democratic leader—says today after announcing he is going to employ the very same strategy as those amateur Republicans four years ago: “This week, we’ll make Republicans answer for their refusal to allow an up or down vote on the most important issue facing our country today. We’re going to work today. We’re going to work tomorrow and work tomorrow night. We’re going to continue working on this until we get a vote.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leader in the Democratic-led filibuster back in 2003 and had this to say during the Republican all-nighter back then: “What we’re having here is a rehash of arguments we’ve heard over and over and over again. It’s not going to change anything.”

And now, a decidedly more optimistic Schumer on the eve of the Democratic all-nighter: “We’re stepping up the pressure.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, who also helped lead the Democratic filibuster of Bush’s judges in 2003, had this to say back then: Republicans were failing to find compromises to “resolve issues the American people are really concerned about.” Instead, Durbin said, Republicans were holding an all-nighter and “grinding red meat for their conservative wing.”

And now Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat in 2007, on Republicans who are threatening filibuster: “If this were a majority vote, the vote of the Senate would reflect the majority feeling of the American people.”

Republicans are playing the same game. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell complaining this week about the Democratic all-nighter: “I think it is theater and bad theater at that. We are happy to report to work, and they could have the debate in the daylight or the evening, whatever they prefer.”

But in 2003, McConnell supported the all-nighter on judges and blasted Reid for his “callow, petulant characterizations” of the Republican leaders who were organizing it.

And finally, here’s Sen. Orrin Hatch four years ago, when Republicans were in control. He was mighty critical of the Democrats for their filibuster: “The only reason they won’t allow an up or down vote…is that they know they would lose.”

Or wait, was that Dick Durbin this week?

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