This week we received another solid indication that Democrats – particularly in the Senate – are believing their own polling numbers and feeling their oats. Sensing that Donald Trump may be on the ropes, leading to potential down-ballot successes for progressives, hopes are rising on the left that the Democrats may just take back control of the Senate, scoring the hat trick for total control of the federal government. That would provide them with a number of options, one of which would be to start tinkering around with the Senate rules of operation. One thorny issue in particular – eliminating the filibuster for legislation – must be making the rounds, because Mitch McConnell stepped out yesterday to warn the minority not to try it if they do manage to take the majority back. (The Hill)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Democrats on Tuesday not to mess with the filibuster rule if they win control of the chamber in November.
He said eliminating the legislative filibuster by reducing the 60-vote threshold for passing bills to a simple majority would be a serious mistake.
“The important thing for our Democratic friends to remember is that you may not be in total control in the future, and anytime you start fiddling around with the rules of the Senate, I think you always need to put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes and just imagine what might happen when the wind shifts,” McConnell told reporters when asked about an uptick in discussions among Democrats about changing the filibuster rule if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the White House and they capture the Senate.
Midnight Mitch wouldn’t have come out with this statement if he hadn’t caught wind of at least some Democrats talking about it. And this is a battle that’s been running for nearly a decade now, always in the same direction. It was Harry Reid who led the then-Democratic majority in the Senate to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch and federal judicial appointments in 2013. (Of course, he waited until Barack Obama won a second term before doing it.) Then McConnel extended that trend to include SCOTUS nominees in 2017.
Expanding that further to include regular legislative votes would take us into a different phase of the battle. But would anyone really be surprised to see it happen? The partisan nature of the legislature is growing more divided, not less as the years go by. Getting a win along party lines with zero bipartisan support is no longer looked at as a shameful way to do business. It’s just a case of c’est la guerre in the current political climate. In fact, I would argue we have some members from both parties who might enjoy some straight party-line votes these days if only as a way to put one in the W column while owning the libs or cons, depending on your preference.
What is perhaps even more intriguing here is the unspoken suggestion apparent in McConnell’s statement. He’s clearly discussing a scenario that would only be in play if the Democrats take back the Senate in November. Is that now an outcome that he is seeing as a viable possibility? Admittedly, Trump’s numbers are in the tank at the moment in national polls, but there are a number of factors currently in play that could change that significantly, particularly if the riots and unrest move out of the urban centers and into the suburbs in any significant fashion. Also, if crime rates don’t start coming back down, that will likely work against Democrats also.
Even if neither of those scenarios plays out in the Dems’ favor, Trump is still a lot closer in the battleground states than Joe Biden would like. (Assuming anyone has pulled him aside to explain the situation.) And most – though not all – of the Senate seats that seem to be in contention will probably wind up going the way of the presidential contest. Yes, it’s obviously a possibility, particularly if the economy is still stalled because of the virus. But Chuck Schumer may be counting his chickens before they hatch at this point.