This was a weird defense of traditiony deference to the Executive from Keegan Gibson, in reference to the obnoxiously bipartisan Chris Abruzzo confirmation vote:
Chris Abruzzo’s position that climate change isn’t a big deal, and that Pennsylvania (one of the top coal-burning states) shouldn’t try to do anything more to reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a partisan position. The Democratic Party does not agree with that position.
My argument is that if the Senate confirmation vote is just a formality, then why have the vote? Why not let Tom Corbett appoint whichever hacks and charlatans he wants? So much the worse for him, and for us for electing him.
But if the confirmation vote does mean something, then Democrats shouldn’t leave their fingerprints on any majority party nominees with excessively radical views on key issues the parties disagree about – in this case, whether or not the new Department of Environmental Protection head should have to believe in Earth’s top environmental problem.
There’s no better way to signal the parties’ disagreement about this issue to the voters than with a symbolic party-line vote against Abruzzo.
The out-of-power Democratic Party is basically a messaging and advocacy outfit with a limited number of tools to impact public opinion on key events in Republican governance. One of those tools is party-line votes. Unified minority party opposition signals to voters that the majority party is doing something radical and unpopular.
The “polarized Washington” comparison that Senate Democrats like Rob Teplitz and John Yudichak have been floating doesn’t make any sense. The Republican Party in Washington has done a great job of using party-line votes to make President Obama look partisan. What’s specifically objectionable to liberals about the Senate Republicans’ behavior is the unprecedented requirement of a 60-vote supermajority for all the President’s nominees. The supermajority requirement accounts for 100% of the Washington dysfunction around nominations.
The Abruzzo situation was nothing like that. There’s no filibuster in Harrisburg. Democrats have a narrow minority in the Senate. Republicans would have had to cast a 27-24 vote for Abruzzo, he still would’ve been appointed, but newspaper readers would have seen the close margin and intuited that the appointment was controversial. Democratic communications would have reinforced the controversy, and the contrast between the parties would have been magnified.
Instead, the large bipartisan vote for a climate denier makes it look like he is broadly acceptable to both parties. That’s political malpractice for a party that supposedly wants to retake the state Senate next year.