There was nothing in Michael Kranish's Washington Post Mad Cawthorn exposé that we haven't already discussed here at DWT, but... Kranish's essay is definitive and, in effect, the last word on this pile of stinking refuse. You should read it, which is why I included the link above. But we on the left have problems of our own without worrying about a 25 year old not overly bright, compulsive liar and Nazi. While Cawthorn, one of the instigators of the 1/6 insurrection, is still insisting Antifa members were the rioters at the Trump failed coup attempt-- "You can call them 'antifa,' you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine, but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad and to make this look like it was a violent outrage when really the battle is being fought by people like myself and other great patriots who were standing up against the establishment, standing up against this tyranny in our country"-- Democrats have to figure out how to govern in the face of Republican Party obstructionism and intransigence made worse by two self-serving right-wing Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
I nominate Kranish to write a Sinema exposé like the one he did on Cawthorn. She's far crazier from what I can tell than he is-- and I've known her for years, before she was even elected to the House and when she was still pretending to be a progressive. Whatever her fuzzy politics, she had long since lost her mind and it was always apparent that crazy, deranged Kyrsten was only about one thing: Kyrsten Sinema, not unlike newer sociopaths Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, caricatured brilliantly on the right by celebrated American artist Nancy Ohanian in a brand new spectacular piece she calls Make American Safe Again.
Exactly a month ago, Alex Pareene, writing for the New Republic, reported that Sinema gave Mitch McConnell, "a personal commitment" that "'under no circumstances would she change course' on her recently restated complete opposition to eliminating the filibuster. As McConnell noted, Sinema and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin both publicly announced [...] that they remain committed to the rule and are not open to changing their minds... As anyone who has spent the last several years reading (or writing) about the filibuster could tell you, the requirement is not some ancient and time-honored tradition. Congress only began requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Senate procedure demanded cloture votes to break filibusters on nearly all its legislative business. So, in other words, the 'tradition' of taking for granted that all legislation (and, until recently, all judicial nominations) would require the support of 60 senators to have any hope of passing is only about as old as the Barack Obama administration."
Pareene, among others, thinks there's a way around that. "There have been a number of suggestions," he wrote, "for tinkering with the filibuster that would 'preserve' the rule in some form while making it vastly easier for legislative majorities to carry out their agendas. My favorite, from the Casey School of Public Policy’s Michael Ettlinger, is simple, clever, and fair: He proposes that we 'allow any group of at least 41 senators who represent more people than the other 59 senators to block legislation-- but if they don’t represent more people they can’t block.' Ettlinger’s proposal accounts for the fact that the filibuster, as it currently exists, is an undemocratic procedure attached to an already horribly unrepresentative institution. In fact, there is a case to be made for a simple requirement that all Senate votes should follow a similar rule-- similar to the 'qualified majority voting' system used by the European Council and the Council of the European Union. This would have the happy effect of alleviating the inherently anti-majoritarian nature of the Senate without anyone having to rewrite the Constitution."
Obviously Senate Republicans from states with tiny populations-- the Dakotas, Wyoming, Alaska (8 Republican senators representing fewer people combined, 2,971,512, than Puerto Rico, 3,189,068, which has no senators-- will never allow any such thing. Nor would the GOP, which draws it's power from these low-population states, especially as Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida start slipping out of their hands.
On Thursday, another New Republic writer, Matt Ford, took on the Sinema sickness more directly. "The filibuster," he wrote, "is the most decisive force in American governance and policymaking today. It decides-- by virtue of requiring 60 votes to pass most legislation, rather than simply a 51-vote majority-- the outcome of countless policy debates before they can even begin."
“Though all nominees may now be confirmed by a simple majority of the Senate, the 60-vote threshold to overcome filibusters on legislation has, so far, been preserved,” Sinema’s office wrote in an email to constituents. “Proponents of also lowering that threshold to a simple majority, effectively eliminating the filibuster entirely, argue that doing so is necessary to overcome gridlock and pass major legislation. Opponents maintain eliminating the filibuster on legislation runs contrary to the deliberative nature of the Senate, and would afford too much power to the majority party.”
This generally works as a nutshell description of the debate. I would quibble with just one portion of it. Eliminating the filibuster would not “afford too much power to the majority party.” It would simply afford the power that the majority party deserves by virtue of being in the majority. Under our status quo, the basic power to pass legislation is a privilege of the majority that can be suspended at the minority’s whim. Passing legislation is not all that the Senate does, of course. But I suspect it ranks higher in voters’ priorities at the ballot box than who chairs which committees, or whether Senator Chuck Schumer gets to put “majority leader” or “minority leader” on his stationary.
Things get less convincing from there. “I have long said that I oppose eliminating the filibuster for votes on legislation,” Sinema’s office went on to explain. “Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it’s meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans.”
From this explanation, a voter might conclude that the Framers created the Senate to be some sort of debating society that occasionally passes bills, rather than an active and functional legislative chamber. The Senate was not “designed” to require 60 votes to take any significant actions. If anything, the opposite is true. The Constitution lays out the specific cases where a supermajority of senators must agree on something, such as ratifying a treaty or removing a president or judge from office. Beyond that, the assumption is that a majority will rule.
“Debate on bills should be a bipartisan process that takes into account the views of all Americans, not just those of one political party,” Sinema’s office explained. “Regardless of the party in control of the Senate, respecting the opinions of senators from the minority party will result in better, common-sense legislation. My position remains exactly the same now that I serve in the majority. While eliminating the filibuster may result in some short-term legislative gains, it would deepen partisan divisions and sacrifice the long-term health of our government.”
Sinema conflates two different aspects of the legislative process here. Debate on bills—when senators speak on the floor or in committee—should be protected and is protected by the Senate. It also shouldn’t be infinite for infinity’s sake. Indeed, the lesson of the Affordable Care Act during the Obama years is that even a party with 60 votes can negotiate endlessly with a minority party and still fail to garner a single vote from across the aisle. The Constitution imposes plenty of restrictions on the types of legislation that Congress can pass. None of them require the Senate only to pass bipartisan legislation or to make everyone happy.
If anything, abolishing the filibuster might lead to a healthier politics. It plays a singular role in ensuring that bills don’t become law. In practical terms, it makes it even harder for the governing party of the country to, well, govern. The filibuster is not the only reason that Congress has atrophied as an institution over the past few decades. Nor is it the main reason that the presidency and the judiciary have accumulated so much power and influence at the legislative branch’s expense. But it is a decisive factor in ensuring that nothing gets done in Washington, disillusioning voters and degrading confidence in basic American democracy.
While abolishing the filibuster outright may be ideal, there are also workable alternatives. Vox’s Ian Millhiser recently noted that the Senate has occasionally tinkered with cloture requirements and the filibuster’s parameters, setting precedents that it could do so again. The Senate could leave the filibuster intact for most bills, for example, but scrap it for certain types of legislation. (This is how the reconciliation process that Democrats plan to use for the latest Covid-19 stimulus bill works.) It could also reduce thresholds for breaking a filibuster-- either by lowering the 60-vote limit to a more manageable number in all cases or by gradually reducing it the longer that a filibuster remains intact.
Millhiser pointed out that filibuster reforms have been quite normal and right now a reform is needed to "build a more functional Senate." Also to preserve democracy with a GOP hellbent on disenfranchising their political opponents at the state level. Millhiser's best idea is to a carveout on bills that protect voting rights. "Democrats in both houses are largely united behind legislation that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act, require states to draw congressional districts using bipartisan commissions, and otherwise make it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote. But such legislation has no chance of passing so long as a Republican Senate minority can filibuster it. A simple majority of the Senate could, however, exempt any bill that expands voting rights from the filibuster, a possibility that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) floated in an interview with the Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein. That would preserve the filibuster for all other legislation-- something Manchin and Sinema seem to value-- while allowing Democrats to pass fundamental democratic reforms at a time when democracy has come under attack from the right... A similar logic could be applied to statehood votes."