Can one get any more inside-the-Beltway than the conundrum reported by Politico? With a 50/50 split in the Senate and Kamala Harris unable to take residence on Capitol Hill 24/7, Democrats and Republicans have to find a way to share power while acknowledging control has shifted to the former. Everyone seems to agree that the 2001 Lott/Daschle plan provides the precedent and the best path forward.
So what’s the problem? Mitch McConnell wants the thin new Democratic majority to agree not to seek any more changes to the legislative filibuster. And even though Democrats don’t have the votes to change it, they also don’t want Chuck Schumer to agree to this demand as an offense against their majority status:
McConnell has publicly and privately pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work to keep the 60-vote threshold on most legislation as part of their power-sharing agreement. Democrats have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they’re about to govern.
In other words, they want the power to bluff, even though they acknowledge they don’t want to tinker with the rule in the first place. What kind of a bluff is that? Either they’re lying about their desire to dismantle the filibuster, or they’re more interested in a d***-measuring contest than they are in getting down to business in the New Healing and Unity Era.
Looks like it’s the d***-measuring contest, but we can’t rule out lying quite yet:
Many Democrats argue that having the threat of targeting the filibuster will be key to forcing compromise with reluctant Republicans. They also believe it would show weakness to accede to McConnell’s demand as he’s relegated to minority leader.
“Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader. We can get shit done around here and we ought to be focused on getting stuff done,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “If we don’t, the inmates are going to be running this ship.”
“It would be exactly the wrong way to begin,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We need to have the kind of position of strength that will enable us to get stuff done.”
Au contraire. Haggling over filibuster reform while arguing that it’s a non-sequitur is the exact wrong way to get started, especially if Democrats hope to get Republicans to cooperate in this session. It’s also the wrong way to begin if the barely-ascendant Democrats hope to build up credibility in this institution under their leadership. The filibuster and judicial wars over the last twenty years have sapped credibility from both sides and reduced the Senate into the kind of brute-force majoritarian forum that it was designed to prevent.
And while both parties have some share of that blame, Mitch McConnell deserves better in this process. He came under enormous pressure from Donald Trump to blow out the legislative filibuster altogether in order to pass Trump’s agenda, especially in the first two years when Republicans also controlled both chambers and the White House. Trump’s populist grassroots called McConnell every name in the book during that entire time, but McConnell stood firm against that final stripping of minority rights the entire time.
Granted, McConnell had his own selfish reasons for keeping it in place. He understood better than some of his erstwhile allies that Republicans would eventually need to make use of it when Democrats took over the gavel. But it still remains true that McConnell fought that action for four years when Democrats were the direct beneficiaries of his integrity on this issue. Given the 50/50 nature of the Senate, this is a concession that Democrats should have made gladly on tha basis alone.
Even putting that aside, this is a nonsense dispute in the first place. Joe Manchin has already insisted that he will not vote for any rules changes to the legislative filibuster, making it a dead issue up front. Ten or more other Democrats signed onto a letter in support of McConnell’s position on the legislative filibuster, organized by Susan Collins in 2017 to give McConnell political cover for refusing Trump’s demands. Any change in position now from any or all of them would look craven and manipulative, and at least a couple of them (Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) have to worry about constituent response on a flip-flip at this stage.
And by the way, Democrats aren’t the only ones with leverage in this situation:
The longer the standoff over the organizing package persists, the weirder the Senate will become. New senators have not been added to committees and the ratios have not changed, leaving the GOP in the majority on some panels. That’s already complicating the ability of the Senate to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s nominees.
That won’t last forever either, but it might last long enough to embarrass the new president. Given his lengthy service in the Senate, perhaps Biden might step up in defense of the filibuster, at least in private among Schumer’s caucus. That would beat the d***-measuring contest the caucus wants, if Biden truly wants comity and a return to normalcy rather than just another brand of mob-rule chaos and corrosion of the Senate.