Two weeks ago, a trio of right-wing senators – Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah – released a statement explaining their intention to block a debate on any legislation that changes any federal gun law in any way. Soon after, the filibuster threat grew to five members, and over the weekend, the total reached 12.
Remember, these dozen GOP senators aren’t just saying they’re going to oppose legislation, and they’re not merely threatening to block final passage. Rather, these 12 senators are saying they’re not prepared to allow the Senate to even have a debate – even if the legislation would save lives, even if the ideas have bipartisan support, and even if the bill is entirely permissible under the Constitution.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and raised a fair point.
For those who can’t watch clips online, McCain said of Senate Republicans’ vow to filibuster the motion to proceed:
“I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand…. What are we afraid of? Why would we not want – if this issue is as important as all of us think it is, why not take it to the world’s greatest deliberative – that’s the greatest exaggeration in history, by the way – but why not take up an amendment and debate?”
I’m not generally inclined to agree with John McCain, but on this, he’s exactly right.
Let’s be clear about the nature of the threat: these 12 Republican senators are saying they’re unwilling to allow the Senate to debate gun legislation. It would be tough enough to craft a bill that can pass both chambers of Congress, but we now have a dozen Republicans who are so scared, they’re afraid of a discussion.
It’s rather bizarre. To reiterate a point from two weeks ago, from the far-right’s perspective, the worst case scenario is easy to imagine: the Senate might pass a bill that Republicans and the NRA don’t like. But even under these circumstances, the legislation would go to the Republican-led House, where progressive legislation has no credible chance of success.
So why go to so much effort to block an argument on the floor of the Senate?
After Mr. Coburn was asked multiple times an identically worded question about whether he would join Mr. Paul’s effort to block gun legislation as he traveled around Oklahoma in recent days, Mr. Coburn bristled at the idea that Mr. Paul would threaten to filibuster a bill before its contents were made final.
“Is that about filibustering a bill to protect the Second Amendment, or is that about Rand Paul?” Mr. Coburn said at a town-hall meeting at the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Guthrie, Okla., on Wednesday.
What a good question.
As an additional bit of context, let’s also note that the Republican senators whose names are most frequently associated with national 2016 ambitions – Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz – are all part of the dozen who are desperate to block the debate.