Nuclear Fallout: The Senate’s Cloture Threshold and Nomination Votes

Jeffrey A. Fine 1  and Margaret S. Williams 2
  • 1 Clemson University
  • 2 Vanderbilt University
Jeffrey A. Fine
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  • Clemson University
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  • Jeffrey A. Fine is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Clemson University. His work focuses on the US Congress, including how it interacts with other political institutions. His research has appeared in outlets including the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Social Science Quarterly, and Presidential Studies Quarterly.
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and Margaret S. Williams
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Further information
  • Margaret S. Williams is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt Law School. Her work examines judicial selection, civil litigation, and gender and politics. Most recently, her work appeared in Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Journal of Tort Law, and Judicature.
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Abstract

In November of 2013, Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Democratic colleagues employed a series of parliamentary steps to change the precedent for cloture with respect to presidential nominations. This so called “nuclear option” reduced the threshold for cloture on presidential nominations (except for those to the US Supreme Court) to a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes necessary in the past. The paper examines how this change affected senators’ voting behavior on both cloture and confirmation of presidential nominations, using the 113th Senate as a natural experimental setting. We find that Republican senators are significantly more likely to vote against cloture in the wake of this change, presumably as symbolic votes of protest against the Democrats’ reversal of longstanding precedent. On the whole, the Republican conference votes against cloture, even when they vote overwhelmingly in favor of the nominee on the final confirmation vote. This suggests that cloture may not represent a sincere objection to the nominee in the post-nuclear Senate.

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