Popular definition of insanity: Doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. Political definition of insanity: Doing the same things Harry Reid did and expecting a good result. Less than a month into single-party governance, House Republicans have begun pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to ditch the filibuster — totally, not just for Supreme Court nominations.
Welcome back to the “permanent majority” mindset:
Rep. Trent Franks had a simple question for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a private GOP meeting here Wednesday: Would he take up anti-abortion legislation the House passed? McConnell shot back that it would never get through the Senate because Democrats aren’t “pro-life” and have the votes to stop it.
So why don’t you just change the rules? Rep. Bruce Poliquin demanded moments later. McConnell dodged, suggesting it’s not going to happen. …
House Republicans, eager to pass conservative priorities they’ve campaigned on for years, are already feeling restless that the Senate — and its higher hurdle for passage — will blunt their efforts. They’d love to kill the filibuster, a nuclear option the tradition-bound McConnell is loath to deploy.
“The public doesn’t want to hear about process; they want to see us get stuff done,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). “I think there is a very low threshold of tolerance among our electorate right now for historical process (and) precedent.”
That’s probably true, but it was equally true for Harry Reid in 2006-14, too. During the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Reid didn’t need to worry so much about the filibuster, as he had 60 Senate seats for a few months and 59 the rest of the time, which was enough to shove ObamaCare through under reconciliation. (McConnell’s about to unwind it the same way, which is itself a reminder that upending precedents can be a very bad idea.)
When Obama wanted to load up the 4th Circuit appellate bench, Reid lost his patience with the filibuster on presidential appointments, going to the nuclear option and wiping out any checks the minority had on confirmations. Obama got his judges, but now Reid’s legacy has made his fellow Democrats in the Senate minority powerless to stop Trump’s nominations. Worse yet, it set a precedent that will ensure that McConnell will act to eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations the first time Democrats try to use it.
The only thing keeping the Senate minority relevant is the legislative filibuster, which is why House Republicans want it eliminated. However, McConnell’s been around long enough to know that it’s a suicidal strategy. Yes, Republicans would be able to slam their entire agenda through Congress to the White House, but that will be true of Democrats at some point when they regain power in Washington. That’s when, not if, and McConnell knows it.
Besides, Republicans have a potential windfall of Senate seats coming in the 2018 elections, perhaps gaining enough seats to defeat legislative filibusters while maintaining that precedent. Why not focus on what’s possible in 2017-18, and come back to the more aggressive agenda items in 2019-20 after expanding the majority?
It doesn’t take a genius to see how badly Reid miscalculated in eliminating the confirmation filibuster. And it shouldn’t take a genius to see how Republicans could end up kneecapping themselves by following Reid’s self-immolation with one of their own.