With the Senate on Tuesday averting the "nuclear option" that would have dramatically changed its rules, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was clearly the pivotal player in stopping a severe curtailment of the filibuster rule that has historically protected minority opinion in the Senate.
After days of intense debate in which the Democrat-controlled Senate seemed on the verge of changing the number of the votes required to end debate on a non-judicial appointment from 60 to 51, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that a compromise had been reached and the dramatic overhaul of rules avoided.
The role of Levin — at age 78 and retiring in 2014 after 36 years in the Senate — in thwarting the rules change was especially important. As of Monday, according to most accounts, an overwhelming majority of Levin's 53 Democratic colleagues were ready to move to permit confirmation votes on President Barack Obama's appointees that have been blocked by Senate Republicans.
Although this change would have meant severely weakening a fixture of Senate — its rules were established since the founding of Congress — the passage appeared certain because a simple majority of the Senate was required and Democrats hold 54 of the 100 seats.
"I love the Senate," Reid told reporters, "but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed."
Levin disagreed sharply. As he told Newsmax at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Tuesday morning, "We just can't take a position [to change the rules] because we're in the majority."
He went on to read an admonition from Michigan's former Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, who, when faced with similar rules change, said that if a majority of the Senate changes its rules, then what will follow will be "the unregulated wishes of the majority."
At a closed-door meeting of senators Monday night, according to sources, Levin was outspoken in his defense of the filibuster.
While not providing details of what he said at the meeting when he met reporters the following morning, Levin did say: "I made it clear I cannot support this."
Recalling how that Republicans floated the same "nuclear option" to lower the vote needed to end a filibuster when they held a majority in the Senate in 2005, Levin told reporters: "Read those speeches opposing it," he said mentioning the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, and Reid himself.
"Now they're flipping their positions. So now it's okay?"
In response to a question from Newsmax, Levin said, "I haven't done a count, but just about every Republican will vote against it."
He added that this is "totally inconsistent with their position eight years ago, but then, ours is totally inconsistent with our position eight years ago. It reminds me of the New York Times editorials."
Levin went on to remind reporters that The Times denounced the proposed Senate rules change in 2005 and "editorialized about the destruction of the minority," and now the publication was taking the opposite position on its editorial pages in supporting the "nuclear option."
With the announcement Tuesday that the Senate did not "go nuclear" on its rules, Levin's warnings of its consequences were heeded and the confrontation avoided — for now.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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