On literally the first day of the new Congress, Politico asked Don Stewart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesperson, what McConnell sees as his biggest challenge. “Democrat obstruction,” Stewart replied.
Putting aside the fact that he probably meant “Democratic obstruction,” the response was striking in its irony. McConnell, arguably more than any senator in the nation’s history, mastered the art of obstructionism, taking it to levels with no precedent in the American experiment. For his office to suddenly decry McConnell’s own practices was a reminder of just how much perspectives can change when one moves from the minority to the majority.
A month later, the posturing is almost amusing.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats Wednesday of knee-jerk obstructionist tactics, flipping a script that Democrats used many times in recent years.McConnell criticized Democrats for filibustering a motion to debate a House-passed bill funding the Department of Homeland Security that contained language blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.“And now Americans are wondering: What could possibly lead Democrats to filibuster Homeland Security funding?” he said on the Senate floor.
I suspect Americans aren’t really wondering that at all – the question is actually pretty easy to answer, as the Majority Leader probably realizes – but it’s the broader context that’s truly amazing.
If we were to create some kind of electronic mechanism to measure hypocrisy on a dial, and we had the machine analyze Team McConnell’s whining, the box would have very likely caught on fire yesterday.
To be sure, when it comes to filibuster hypocrisy, there’s plenty of bipartisan chiding to go around. When a party is in the majority, its members discover the remarkable value of majority rule, a sacrosanct principle that senators ignore at the nation’s peril. When that same party is in the minority, its members magically conclude that tyranny of the majority is a scourge that must be tempered with overuse of “cooling saucer” metaphors.
It’s therefore quite easy to dig up quotes from Democrats and Republicans contradicting themselves quite brazenly as they transition between minority, majority, and back.
But McConnell is nevertheless a special case. In recent years, specifically after President Obama took office, the Kentucky Republican turned obstructionism into an art form. He abused institutional norms and rules in ways his predecessors never even considered, filibustering everything he could, as often as he could. McConnell operated with a simple principle: If a bill can be blocked, it must be blocked.
Following his lead, Senate Republicans not only spent six years refusing to compromise or accept any concessions on any issue, it also imposed filibusters on every key piece of legislation to reach the floor. Before the so-called “nuclear option,” the GOP minority even routinely filibustered nominees they actually supported.
It was all part of a deliberate (and occasionally successful) strategy in which McConnell would obstruct everything he could, making Democratic governance as impossible as he could make it, without regard for the consequences.
Some reflexive complaining from McConnell and his allies is to be expected – their own medicine apparently has a bitter taste – but self-awareness is an under-appreciated quality. If the Majority Leader wants to be taken at all seriously, he can either avoid complaints about “obstructionism” or he can hope for mass amnesia to sweep the political world.
I’d recommend the former over the latter.