You Can Do A Lot With Forty Votes
Just now the Senate filibustered their first Obama Administration nominee, David Hayes, who was bidding to be the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, because conservatives are seeking revenge for Ken Salazar's early moves at shutting down some of the worst oil and gas leases approved by the Bush Administration. Looking at the roll call, John Kerry and Barbara Mikulski missed the vote (Kerry was at a funeral for an Iraq soldier), and so eventually this guy will get confirmed. And I don't want to let Harry Reid off the hook - he screwed up the vote counting on this one, and his reticence to try and confirm Dawn Johnsen as head of the OLC shows an inability to count votes, twist arms, hold his caucus, and really show any kind of leadership.
However, this is an example of the mischief a Republican caucus can still cause, especially with only 99 Senators seated and Al Franken sitting out in Minnesota. Yesterday, Judd Gregg made this very clear:
But in a 99-member Senate, 40 votes are enough to keep Democrats from cutting off debate on major legislation. "Usually you need 41 votes to get anything done around here. But right now, you can do a lot with 40 votes,'' said Judd Gregg.
What a pleasing coincidence for these Republicans! Fortunately, their colleague Norm Coleman, who is being bankrolled by the Republican National Committee and wealthy Republican donors, and without any coordination with Republicans in Washington, just happens to be throwing up whatever obstacle he can to keep Franken from getting seated. That just works out famously for Judd Gregg and his Senate pals.
In this sense, Norm Coleman remains a sitting Senator. Since his party just votes no anyway, his absence is as good as a vote to uphold the filibuster. You could say that Coleman is the most active inactive Senator in American history.