Mark Kelly finally walks the plank, says he supports changing the filibuster

Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool

A belated Christmas present from Chuck Schumer to the GOP. Kelly has been dodging questions about the filibuster for months, for sound strategic reasons. He’s up for election to a full Senate term this fall and knows that choosing a side on this issue is destined to piss off one party or the other in a 50/50 state. If he sides with his Arizona colleague, Kyrsten Sinema, in support of the filibuster, the left will be incensed. He might even face an eleventh-hour primary challenge by progressives. But if he sides with Biden and Schumer in altering the filibuster, he’ll give the right even more of an incentive to turn out in big numbers against him in the general election.

Ultimately he concluded that he has more to fear from his base than from conservatives. Maybe Bernie Sanders’s threat yesterday to support primary challenges to pro-filibuster Democrats helped “clarify” the choice for Kelly.

Or maybe it was a simple matter of Kelly watching the left mobilize *two years in advance* to primary Sinema in 2024 that convinced him supporting the filibuster might be a career-ending mistake irrespective of what Bernie Sanders might or might not do.

Either way, congratulations to Schumer on forcing one of his most vulnerable incumbents to take a position on a no-win issue for … no reason whatsoever. Tonight’s big floor vote on nuking the filibuster will fail thanks to Manchin and Sinema. As such, making Kelly cast a vote on it is pure sadism by his caucus leader, who clearly cares about impressing progressives back home in New York more than he does protecting his own members. You deserve to lose the Senate, Chuck.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., will support a change to the filibuster rule, The Arizona Republic has learned, showing for the first time a willingness to bend on an issue that has tied the Senate in knots for a year as the Democratic legislative agenda has stalled.

Kelly, who is up for reelection this year, will back a “talking filibuster” rule only for the proposed voting rights legislation that he co-sponsors…

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote. Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction,” Kelly said in a statement to The Republic.

That’s Kelly trying to have it both ways, unwilling to nuke the filibuster altogether but prepared to support a special carve-out for voting rights legislation that would allow Republicans to block the bills only if they’re willing to hold the floor indefinitely. As usual with too-cute “split the baby” solutions, that’s apt to piss off both sides instead of impressing both. The GOP surely would mount a sustained “talking filibuster” if it came to that, which would lead progressives to demand that Kelly support eliminating the filibuster altogether. And a “limited” carve-out for voting rights bills would quickly become an exception that swallows the rule: A new GOP Senate majority would retaliate by passing some sort of “limited” filibuster carve-out for one of its own pet issues in 2023. Then Democrats would pass another “limited” carve-out the next time they’re in charge, then Republicans would pass another carve-out, and so on until the filibuster imploded entirely.

Kelly doesn’t care, though. Manchin has already dismissed the possibility of a “talking filibuster” so there’s no chance Kelly’s vote will matter this evening. All he’s trying to do is reduce the aggregate number of voters who’ll be mad at him after today. That’s the sort of winning political calculus Schumer has foisted on him. And the GOP is ready to capitalize:

Is Schumer the most strategically inept liberal involved in the filibuster fight, though? I’m not so sure.

EMILY’s List, another pro-choice outfit aimed at electing Democratic women, has also threatened not to endorse Sinema in her next election, never mind that Sinema is a pro-choice Democratic woman whose most likely primary opponent in 2024 is a man. The irony is that if there’s any lefty activist niche out there that should be growing fonder of the filibuster over time, it’s pro-choicers. After all, odds are good that the Supreme Court will nuke Roe v. Wade next summer. Odds are also decent that the GOP will enjoy total control of government in 2025. If it does, Republicans would be well positioned to try to impose national restrictions on abortion over the objections of pro-choice blue states. The only thing standing in their way might be … the Senate filibuster.

Would McConnell and the Senate GOP nuke the filibuster themselves in that circumstance? Maybe. I’ve written before about the politics of that. But McConnell resisted going nuclear despite Trump’s pleas to do so during the previous administration. And even if he was prepared to pull the trigger, Republicans might find themselves with a Manchinema problem in the form of Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, whose votes they may need to get to 50 on the rule change. As such, pro-choice groups should at worst be neutral on filibuster politics right now. The fact that they’re pressuring Sinema to get rid of it proves that they can’t see two moves ahead.

I mean, would NARAL and EMILY’s List necessarily become pro-filibuster again in three years? Or would they be forced to withdraw support from every Democrat in the Senate once they inevitably became pro-filibuster again?

By the way, as if to put an exclamation point on this long stretch of Democratic strategic stupidity, the White House and Schumer somehow arranged it so that Biden’s first press conference in ages will be followed in short order by another embarrassing legislative failure by his party on the Senate floor:

A perfect pairing for tomorrow’s morning newspapers. I’ll leave you with Mitt Romney, the good Republican, not holding back on the Senate floor last night.