Kyrsten Sinema: No, I'm not getting rid of the filibuster to make the left happy, and no, you can't change my mind

The funny thing about this is that neither party believes her.


She’s said before that she won’t vote to end the filibuster but this is a sensitive moment, shall we say, for her to underline the point. That’s because Mitch McConnell has refused to cooperate with Chuck Schumer on the rules for the new Senate term, insisting that he won’t agree to a 50/50 power-sharing agreement in which Democrats chair Senate committees until Schumer commits to preserving the filibuster for the next two years. Can’t do that, says Schumer; if we commit to it, that means McConnell and the GOP can filibuster every last bill Dems put on the floor, no matter how unreasonably, and the majority will be stuck. Well, then, says McConnell, I guess the new rules will remain unapproved. The surreal result, for now, is that Republicans remain in charge of all committees (under the old rules passed when they were in the majority last year) even though Democrats control the Senate thanks to Harris’s ability to cast tiebreaking votes.

In other words, McConnell is blocking Dems from taking charge and there’s not a ton Schumer can do to stop him.

That’s where Sinema comes in. If Republicans believed that she was absolutely committed to her stated position, Cocaine Mitch could drop his demand and allow the new rules to pass. After all, without her, Schumer couldn’t get the 50 votes he needs to nuke the filibuster. On the other hand, if Democrats believed that Sinema was absolutely committed to preserving the filibuster, Schumer could simply acquiesce to McConnell’s demand. If he doesn’t have the votes to go nuclear — and between Sinema and Joe Manchin, he doesn’t — then he might as well formally rule out ending the filibuster. (Although Dems would hate Schumer for making a concession to the GOP on the rules after Republicans have just been reduced to minority status.)


Both Dems and Republicans think there’s at least a tiny chance that Sinema will change her mind, no matter what she says now. So Dems won’t give in to McConnell and McConnell won’t give in to them.

A possible way out: What if Dems nuke the specific filibuster that McConnell’s engaged in now, i.e. a filibuster of the rules package, without nuking the filibuster for legislation?

Yet given the deadlock, some liberal activists are urging Mr. Schumer to respond aggressively and immediately blow up the filibuster to enact the organizing resolution over Mr. McConnell’s objections, handing Democrats the power they won in the election. They argue that since the measure does not become law, the move would leave the legislative filibuster intact, and should win the support of even Democrats like Mr. Tester who want to preserve it.

The fact that Sinema was willing to publicly bolster McConnell’s negotiating position today is drawing precisely the sort of reactions from lefties that you might expect:

The hard truth is that it’s in the interest of centrist senators like Sinema, Manchin, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski to keep the filibuster intact. In a braver, more rational world, the opposite would be true: Centrists would loathe the filibuster because it drains away their influence over policy. In a Senate where a bare majority could pass legislation, Sinema et al. would have enormous sway over the final product because their votes would decide whether the bill passes. In our fallen world, though, Sinema and the rest love having the filibuster around because it means they can never be blamed for having a bill fail. If Medicare for All came to the floor in a Senate with simple majority rule, Sinema and Manchin would face enormous pressure from the left to pass it and put it on Biden’s desk. As it is, in a world with the filibuster, Medicare for All won’t even get close to the 60 votes it needs for cloture. Sinema and Manchin can vote on it however they want and the left won’t much care because those votes were meaningless.


The White House kind of likes the filibuster too, of course. Not always: GOP opposition to a new COVID package is already forcing Biden to make a hard decision about whether to spend a month or two trying to find 10 Republican votes or instead to use the tricky nuclear option of budget reconciliation to do it. But the filibuster makes it easy for Biden to engage in “gesture politics” on subjects like immigration. He can float a gigantic amnesty bill with zero meaningful border enforcement provisions and not need to worry about whether that puts Dem centrists like Manchin and Sinema in a jam because he knows it’s not going to pass. It won’t get within a country mile of 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. It’s just legislative virtue-signaling to the left to show them that Biden shares their priorities before McConnell flushes the bill down the toilet.

Anyway, back to the current standoff. Will Mitch take Sinema’s *and* Manchin’s promises as sufficient proof that Dems won’t kill the filibuster?

“If I haven’t said it very plain, maybe Sen. McConnell hasn’t understood, I want to basically say it for you. That I will not vote in this Congress, that’s two years, right? I will not vote” to change the filibuster, Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in an interview on Monday afternoon. “And I hope with that guarantee in place he will work in a much more amicable way.”

Some Democrats say if Republicans block Democrats’ priorities, it’s worth preserving the ability to change the rules later. Asked if there is any scenario that would change his mind, he replied: “None whatsoever that I will vote to get rid of the filibuster.”


Good enough for McConnell to back down? What if Manchin and Sinema put it in writing?

I’m guessing no. This is a staring contest now with Schumer and Mitch is determined to win.

I’ll leave you with this interesting point from Tim Miller about Democratic “logic” on ending the filibuster. I think Dems believe that if only they had a real chance to pass their agenda — the public option, minimum-wage hike, immigration reform, etc — voters would love it so much that they’d be rewarded in the midterms and in the long term such that the GOP advantage in the Senate would be neutralized. They’re kidding themselves, but that’s the theory.

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