Sometimes, when a party makes a transition from the minority to the majority, it’s perspective undergoes a radical transformation.
Well, that didn’t take long. As House Republicans grapple with how they can force Senate Democrats to take up their version of a Department of Homeland Security funding bill, some conservatives are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to turn toward the so-called nuclear option.“Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Thursday at a panel discussion with conservative lawmakers. “And this is important enough for Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate.”
Roll Call’s report added that Labrador, who never seemed to have a problem with the filibuster when his party was in the Senate minority, now believes the nation is facing a “constitutional crisis.”
Let’s pause to note the nation is not facing a “constitutional crisis.” What the nation is facing is a familiar political circumstance – one that that drove Democrats batty many times in recent years when they were in the majority.
A far-right anti-immigrant provision would pass the Senate – and be vetoed by President Obama – if the chamber operated by majority rule. But GOP senators, when they were in the minority, effectively created a new normal in which literally every bill of any consequence would need a 60-vote majority to overcome routine filibusters. No supermajority means no passage.
And so long as Harry Reid was the Senate Majority Leader, Republicans thought this dynamic was fantastic since it practically guaranteed perpetual gridlock and effectively made it impossible for President Obama to advance much of his agenda.
But now that the cloture vote is on the other foot, and Democrats are playing the game the way Republicans did, the GOP’s filibuster freak-out is underway.
Of course, it’s not just Raúl Labrador. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) was eager to remind folks, accurately, that the filibuster “is not in the Constitution” and Senate rules have adapted many times in response to public needs and institutional abuses.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) also called on Senate GOP leaders to unilaterally change the rules so that Republicans could pass legislation by majority rule.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) loved the filibuster when it blocked Democratic priorities, but wouldn’t you know it, his office criticized filibusters yesterday as “undemocratic” and “senseless.”
As I’ve said many times, when it comes partisans and obstructionism, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around and both parties are guilty of shameless reversals. That said, yesterday’s outrage from far-right lawmakers bordered on comical – in part because of these members’ previous positions, and in part because we’re only one month into the new Congress.
I shudder to think how hysterical far-right members will be, say, a year from now.
It’s important to emphasize that Senate Republicans may be frustrated by the 60-vote threshold, but they’ve shown exactly zero interest in overhauling the rules and returning the Senate to majority-rule status.
Maybe they should? For those who want to overhaul Senate rules – a group I consider myself a part of – yesterday’s tantrum from far-right House members actually seemed quite persuasive, at least as far as congressional procedures go. If a Republican-led House and a Republican-led Senate want to pass an awful bill, arguably that’s up to them. If the president disagrees, he can veto. If the public disagrees, voters can take punitive action in the next election cycle.
Brian Beutler had a good piece on this yesterday:
[W]hat’s frustrating Republicans right now is at the heart of what makes the filibuster so odious. It’s not just that it’s undemocratic, as Boehner says, but that it badly distorts accountability for the triumphs and failures of elected legislators. Republicans aren’t upset because they won’t get their way – they know Obama is still president and would veto their DHS funding bill. They’re upset because the filibuster obscures the true nature of the partisan disagreement, and makes it much more likely that they’ll be blamed for a partial DHS shutdown. […]Republicans won’t ever get a chance to make the counterargument – that Obama would resort to shutting down DHS to save his immigration actions – because of the filibuster. The public instead sees a Congress under Republican control unable or unwilling to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
My sense is that several Senate Democrats understand this perfectly well, and if GOP leaders proposed eliminating the filibuster altogether, some Dems might actually vote for it, even though they’re in the minority.