For much of President Obama’s first two years in office, Democrats accomplished an enormous amount, but not quite as much as they would have liked. On a variety of key issues, Republican filibusters in the Senate blocked important progressive priorities, and at times, stopped the Democratic majority from even trying.
There were instances in which legislation would enjoy the support of a House majority, the White House, and 57 senators, but the bills would die anyway – the GOP minority set a 60-vote minimum on literally every measure of any significance. If Dems didn’t like it, Republicans said at the time, they’d just have to work harder at building bipartisan consensus.
In the years since, the congressional parties’ fortunes have shifted and it’s now the GOP in the majority. And wouldn’t you know it, now that Democrats are playing by the same rules and employing the same tactics, Republicans now find their own tactics intolerable.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Chuck Todd talked to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about whether his Republican brethren in the Senate should use a new “nuclear option” to end filibusters altogether. Here’s the exchange:
TODD: You brought up the Senate and said senate Democrats. One way that this could change is since Republicans do have the majority [in the Senate] is that Mitch McConnell invokes the so-called nuclear option. Right now there are no filibusters for any executive appointments – judicial or in the executive branch. But on legislation, the filibuster is still there. Do you want senate Republicans to go nuclear?MCCARTHY: I don’t think going nuclear when you have 57 percent of the Senate voted for to cause the amendment that would take away the president’s action, that is not nuclear when 57 percent of the American representation says it’s wrong. That’s not in the Constitution. I think they should change the rules.
For context, McCarthy was referring to a Senate vote on Friday to destroy President Obama’s executive actions from November 2014. The measure failed on a procedural vote with 57 supporters, three short of what Republicans needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
This, evidently, was the proof the House Majority Leader needed – it’s time, he told Chuck Todd, to “change the rules” and stop the tactics Republicans perfected.
Indeed, note McCarthy’s specific language: in his mind, changing the rules to allow 57-vote majorities to pass bills doesn’t even count as “going nuclear.” As far as he’s concerned, the nuclear option isn’t even the nuclear option anymore; it’s just common sense.
To be sure, McCarthy’s not the only one making arguments like these. A wide variety of notable Republicans – some in Congress, some in the media – have argued publicly that it’s time to eliminate the tactics the GOP relied on constantly when they were in the Senate minority from 2007 to 2014.
At this point, I’m skeptical that Senate Republican leaders will seriously pursue a dramatic rule change, but the fact that such talk has become common – and has now been endorsed by one of Congress’ top GOP leaders – is itself an interesting commentary on the political parties.
Since the 2006 midterms, Republicans have celebrated filibusters as an essential tool of good governance. When the Senate GOP was in the minority, they abused filibuster rules to a degree unseen in American history, infuriating Democrats and frustrating much of the public. But just two months into the new, Republican-led Congress, the GOP is tasting its own bitter medicine, and it’s suddenly eager, if not desperate, to spit it out.
As we recently discussed, if congressional Republicans are already outraged by the routinization of filibusters, I shudder to think how hysterical far-right partisans will be, say, a year from now.