Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) didn’t just complain this week about the international nuclear agreement with Iran; he also targeted the nature of the Democratic support for the policy. Apparently, Senate Dems expect the Republican majority to get 60 votes for their plan – and Cotton thinks that’s outrageous.
“Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal,” the right-wing freshman complained.
Ah yes, the ol’ “up-or-down” vote – the one thing the majority party loves, until it falls into the minority, at which point it rediscovers the “cooling saucer” metaphor, right up until it reclaims the majority and the cycle begins anew.
Cotton isn’t alone, of course. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), upon learning of the likely Democratic filibuster, responded, “Are you kidding me?” Politico reported today:
“Is that where they really want to be? Do they really want to vote to block consideration of … probably the biggest foreign policy endeavor?” Corker said in an interview. “Do they want to be in a place where they voted to keep from going to the substance [of the Iran debate]?”
Corker may not have fully thought this one through.
First, Democrats were in the Senate majority for eight years prior to this Congress, and Corker was there the whole time. Over those eight years, the Senate Republican minority took obstructionism to levels unseen in American history, creating twisted new norms in which 60-vote super-majorities were required for practically every vote of any consequence.
The institution had never operated this way at any time in its history, but that’s the way Mitch McConnell and GOP senators wanted it to be, and the political world simply went along as if it were normal.
All of a sudden, however, Corker sees Democrats playing by the rules Republicans wrote – and he’s disgusted? As best as I can tell, the Tennessee lawmaker didn’t complain once about his own party’s obstructionist tactics, but now he’s incensed by the minority denying one of his priorities an “up-or-down vote”?
Second, Corker’s concerned about Democrats blocking a debate over the “substance” of the diplomatic agreement, but let’s not play games – the debate has been ongoing for months, and whether there’s a filibuster or not won’t change that. As Jon Chait noted this morning, “Corker seems to be framing the filibuster as the anti-debate method rather than the pro-debate method…. In fact, whether a bill needs 51 or 60 votes to pass is irrelevant to how much debate or consideration it gets. Every senator who wants the chance to read their canned talking points on the Senate floor while the other senators ignore them will have the chance to do so either way.”
For those who want to see the chamber’s filibuster rules changed – a group I belong to, no matter which party is in the majority – there may be a temptation to agree with Corker’s underlying demand. He wants a majority-rule vote on his bill, and proponents of Senate reform ultimately share the same goal.
But let’s not lose sight of the context. Corker isn’t advocating sweeping Senate reforms, and he never raised a finger to improve how the institution functions when his party was blocking every Democratic priority it could. Rather, this is a case of a senator who was perfectly comfortable with an endless stream of filibusters for eight years, no matter the consequences, but who’s now annoyed when confronted with the tactics his party perfected.
There’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around when it comes to Senate obstructionism, but Corker’s complaints are a bit much, even by Capitol Hill standards.