My first thought upon reading this was that it’s potentially potent turnout fuel for Trump this fall, a way for him to finally convince voters that kindly old Grandpa Joe actually *is* the greater of two evils on the ballot. With Democrats in charge of the Senate and the filibuster gone, Biden would be out of procedural excuses for resisting the left’s demands for major progressive legislation.
Why not a Green New Deal? And sweeping gun control? And mass amnesty?
And Medicare for All? They’d have the votes in theory. What’s stopping them?
Then I remembered that most Americans are in a perpetual civic coma, with not the faintest idea of what the filibuster is. Possibly Trump could educate them in time for the election but I wouldn’t bet on it. Arcane Senate procedure typically isn’t the stuff of which surprise victories are made.
Still, I think it’s worth him talking about this if only to put Biden on the defensive. Either Sleepy Joe will scare a few centrists by admitting that he wants the filibuster gone or he’ll infuriate lefties by insisting that he doesn’t. Why isn’t Trump playing this up?
Democratic insiders are assembling a coalition behind the scenes to wage an all-out war on the Senate filibuster in bullish anticipation of sweeping the 2020 election and passing an ambitious progressive agenda…
“Our goal is to lift the filibuster higher on progressives’ agendas in advance of November and help them make it clear to a future President Biden and Senate leadership that they expect and demand speedy Senate rules reform in 2021 and will not accept more gridlock, delays and excuses,” [organizer Eli] Zupnick said. “We are going to be very focused on the need for speedy action.”…
“If President Biden wants to get things done, he can’t play around with the filibuster,” [Harry] Reid told NBC News, arguing that Americans will no longer accept a supermajority Senate threshold for action. “So I think that should be the first item of business with a Senate majority which is Democratic — to get rid of the filibuster.”
Reid isn’t the only retired party chieftain egging the party on to nuke what’s left of the filibuster. Remember that Obama encouraged them to do so as well at John Lewis’s funeral, referring to it as a “Jim Crow relic.”
I don’t think they’ll have the numbers to do it, at least not at first. The Cook Political Report currently favors the GOP to flip one blue seat (Doug Jones’s) and Democrats to flip one red one (Martha McSally’s). There are also six Republican-held seats rated as pure toss-ups. If Democrats swept them all, they’d end up with a 53/47 advantage next year, which *might* give them an outside chance at the 50 votes they’d need — plus Kamala Harris’s vote as VP — to get rid of the filibuster. In theory.
But think this through. How many of the Dems who just unseated Republican incumbents will want to go balls-to-the-wall on moving an ultra-left agenda, having just won their seats by (probably) narrow margins? There are already two Dems in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who’ve said they won’t support eliminating the filibuster, which means Schumer likely starts with just 51 votes in a realistic best-case scenario. Maaaaaybe their opposition will soften if Republicans spend Biden’s first year in office filibustering everything in sight. But Manchin and Sinema have an incentive to resist hard-left legislative maneuvers given the partisan realities of their home states. The Democrats looking to pull upsets this fall in North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, and Montana will have the same incentive.
Democratic leaders will also be reluctant to see the filibuster go for reasons well explained by Luke Thompson in this piece published last month. How come? Simple: The filibuster is a way for the party to not only avoid passing polarizing left-wing policies that might come back to haunt them in the midterms but to blame Republicans for the failure of those bills instead of accepting responsibility themselves. No sense in bringing the Green New Deal up for a vote when the filibuster is still around, right? Those damned GOPers will just block it! Make the filibuster go away, though, and suddenly Schumer, Pelosi, and Biden are all on the hook for what doesn’t happen — or what does.
The Senate would immediately come to look a lot more like the House, where the speaker rules with an iron fist. In a purely majoritarian Senate, the majority leader becomes the gatekeeper for lawmaking. Anything that reaches the floor of the Senate would presumably become law with relatively little deliberation, as the need to build consensus went out the window. At least in the short term, this would likely make lawmaking even more polarized than it already is.
To put this in concrete terms: Chuck Schumer, newly empowered, would have to navigate treacherous political waters with a deftness he has not, to date, shown. Likewise, individual senators would face countervailing political pressures, pressures that would pit their general-election prospects squarely against the priorities of the partisans in their primary electorates…
The Senate majority leader would learn to pressure the speaker of the House, either to temper extreme House bills or to write legislation as an opening bid for bargaining. Conference committees would become the primary sites for legislating.
Without a filibuster, a bill that failed to pass a Democratic Senate would be squarely the fault of Chuck Schumer and any members of his caucus who voted no. Those members would be stuck facing an enraged progressive wing back home, doubtless with primary challenges to follow. And what if Schumer cobbled together 50 votes for passage? Then senators like Manchin and Sinema would face an enraged centrist and conservative general electorate the next time they sought reelection. Pelosi would suddenly have the headache of trying to water down legislation in the House, not wanting AOC-style proposals to pass and end up putting Schumer in a pickle in the Senate. Centrist House Dems would also agonize over what to do. Right now they can shore up their progressive cred by supporting certain lefty bills, confident that those bills will die quietly in the Senate and they’ll never have to answer for them. With Dems in charge of the Senate and the filibuster gone, those House centrists will suddenly have to start beating back lefty initiatives — and risking their own primary challenges.
And Sleepy Joe? Thompson imagines a scenario in which a new red wave sweeps Republicans back into power in the House and Senate in 2022. Without a filibuster, the Democratic Senate minority would be unable to block GOP legislation from reaching Biden’s desk. President Joe would suddenly be forced to issue vetoes, some of which may be unpopular depending on the nature of the legislation. He might pay for it in 2024, assuming he runs again.
So, the bad news: Given the near-term political forecast, nuking the filibuster might produce some major progressive policy gains as timid congressional Dems opt to protect their left flanks. The good news: It could benefit the GOP longer-term as they return to power. And hey, if you like the idea of politicians having to sack up and actually show their cards on legislation instead of engaging in some elaborate kabuki in which they basically invite the other party to kill their own bills, then losing the filibuster is for you.
Congress has been awfully boring the past 10 years. A filibuster-less Senate would be very much not boring. And House and Senate turnover in purplish jurisdictions would likely begin to accelerate. What could go wrong?
Here’s McConnell earlier today warning Dems not to “disfigure” the Senate next year by going nuclear. One wonders if he’ll still feel this way if, against all odds, Trump wins reelection *and* Republicans retake the House. You think POTUS is going to sit quietly by for four more years as McConnell lets Senate Dems filibuster his entire agenda into oblivion?
Sen. Mitch McConnell: "This threat to permanently disfigure, to disfigure the Senate, has been the latest growing drumbeat in the modern Democratic Party's war against our governing institutions." pic.twitter.com/9UfhuPDBWA
— The Hill (@thehill) September 14, 2020