There's a faint rumble coming out of the White House that Biden could possibly favor a tiny bit of filibuster reform-- just a smidge. Although Lindsey Graham-- like the rest of the Republicans-- supported ending enough of the filibuster to confirm Trump's Supreme Court judges, he needs his smelling salts when anyone brings up abolishing the legislative part of the filibuster. Yesterday, he told Hannity that "It would destroy the Senate as we know it. Anything big like this, you should be able to get a few votes from the other side, right? If you want to federalize the elections and do away with redistricting by the states and turn it over to some commission that will fundamentally change how you vote, if you want to go to ballot harvesting nationally and take authority away from the states, shouldnt that be at least somewhat bipartisan? ... If [Democrats] pick up one more seat in 2022, if they get 51 or 52 Democratic senators, they're going to abolish the filibuster and transform America. I talked to President Trump a lot today. He's focused like a laser on making sure Republicans regain the Senate and the House to stop the most radical agenda in American history... [With] a 50 50 Senate, you can't do anything without unanimous consent that matters, and to have a quorum, you've gotta have 51 people present and the vice president doesn't count. So if they did this, we could really shut down the entire Senate because we just won't show up. And here's what Biden needs to understand. If you go to the talking filibuster, we will take the floor to stop H.R. 1. I would talk until I fell over to make sure that we don't go to ballot harvesting and voting by mail without voter ID ...If they had 52 Democrats, they would cut Joe Manchin out and they would change the rules of the Senate. You know, when we're in charge, they write me letters, [and] want me to say I won't change the filibuster to protect the Senate. Now they're in charge and are willing to throw everything over. And at the end of the day, 2022 is the best hope for us to stop this crazy stuff... If [Democrats] pick up one more seat in 2022, if they get 51 or 52 Democratic senators, they're going to abolish the filibuster and transform America. I talked to President Trump a lot today. He's focused like a laser on making sure Republicans regain the Senate and the House to stop the most radical agenda in American history.
Reforming the filibuster doesn't mean going backwards to a talking filibuster which is actually a reactionary move, not a progressive move. And it won't mean anything of importance-- like preventing Republican state legislatures from taking away the vote from minorities or like passing a minimum wage increase-- will get done at all. NPR this morning:
An increasing number of Senate Democrats feel that a talking filibuster would make it harder for Republicans to stand in the way of every major piece of legislation.
But it's not as simple as it seems.
"The talking filibuster probably sounds more effective than it probably would be in practice," said Sarah Binder, author of Politics or Principle? Filibustering in the United States Senate and professor at George Washington University.
On the one hand, Binder said, it would seem to put the burden on the minority and make it pick legislation it is really opposed to and is willing to "go all out" to oppose.
But the responsibility would likely quickly turn back to the majority-- and at inopportune times, literally.
Imagine a scenario in which a senator was holding the floor in the middle of the night and they look around and see there aren't many opposing senators in the chamber.
"There really is not a quorum on the floor" at that point, Binder said, noting that a majority would be needed to keep the Senate in session. The senator could then "note the absence of a quorum, and, all of a sudden, the majority, who wants to get to a vote, the onus is on them to generate 51 senators in the middle of the night."
In this new reality, if the majority can't produce the votes, the Senate goes home.
"Now, you might say, 'Oh that's not so bad,'" Binder said, "but it is bad if you're the majority, and your point is to get to a vote, which is what the filibuster prevents."
That could produce a situation in which senators have to be at the Capitol at all hours of the night.
And it's something Republicans are already plotting.
"Whoever was in the majority would constantly have to have 50 senators in the building to do anything," said a former senior Senate leadership aide, who requested anonymity due to concerns that speaking about politics could jeopardize their current employment. "If the Democrats want to live in the Capitol, they can do that, but they'd have to be there."
And that includes Vice President Harris, the former aide noted, because the Senate is split 50-50. She would be needed to break ties on anything Republicans force a vote on-- even, for example, starting the Senate before noon or adjourning for the day.
..."The president recognized that the government of the United States can't do its job if it's paralyzed," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) who has long advocated for filibuster reform. "So it's very much appreciated."
While Democrats take McConnell's threats seriously, they are mostly shrugging them off. They feel they've been left with few to no options to pass legislation they believe would make a difference in people's lives.
"The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) long seen as a Senate institutionalist, said Monday. "The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people."
It all sets the stage for a pitched partisan fight to come, not about just how the country is governed, but also how the future of American politics functions.
Politico's Natasha Korecki and Laura Barrón-López noted this morning that "At the heart of their argument is a proposition: if the filibuster is used to stymie voting and civil rights legislation, the minority in the Senate will remain protected to the detriment of minority voters... Among the discussions within the White House is whether the administration could reform or eliminate the filibuster on only certain issues, including on a major voting rights bill. Aides argue behind closed doors that the fact that the Covid relief package passed without one Republican vote, despite securing more than 70 percent approval in various polls, only strengthens the case that some form of filibuster reform may be inevitable, according to two people with knowledge of White House conversations."
And as uncomfortable for a worm like Lindsey Graham to contemplate, that brings us to a question raised this morning by the Punchbowl gang in their newsletter: "What do Republicans stand for as a party?" Let's leave aside for a moment the sister question about what the lesser-evil party stands for. John Bresnahan, Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman wrote that the raise the question because they're trying to get a sense of what the political landscape is like in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency. They don't sense any unifying theme or issue from the GOP any longer. "Trump is gone from Washington for the moment, but very much in the mix of the national political scene. And despite his popularity with the base, the GOP Establishment is done with the former president. Trump was more of a negative power than a positive one in most instances anyway, and whatever agenda he had was about himself, not the Republican Party as a whole. So where does that leave the party?" they asked.
Republican used to be for fiscal discipline and balanced budgets, but they no longer are. Their 2017 tax cuts blew up the deficit, and they had no problem running up the red ink under Trump. They can't make a case for fiscal discipline anymore.
Defense policy: They were once strongly pro-NATO, and believed America should be a muscular and interventionist presence on the foreign stage. But those ties frayed, and those beliefs faded under Trump. Republicans used to warn against cozying up to dictators. See Trump again.
Trade policy: Trump blew up decades of Republican orthodoxy on the benefits of free trade. Now some Republicans are for tariffs, others are not.
Health policy: Where do we start here? GOP leaders have claimed they would put forward and pass an Obamacare replacement plan for the last 11 years. We’re still waiting.
Science: Republicans were once strong supporters of premier federal institutions like the CDC and NIH. Now, a big chunk of their party sees top scientists as quacks, and polls show that something approaching 40% of self-identified Republicans are hesitant about taking the Covid-19 vaccine.
Separation of powers: Republicans said Trump was justified in unilaterally diverting funds approved by Congress for different programs for the border wall. Now Biden has canceled border-wall construction, and Republicans are complaining that he is violating the law.
Picking winners and losers: There was a period of time not too long ago where Republicans criticized Democrats for what they saw as overzealous intervention into the private sector -- picking winners and losers, they said. This would be a tough argument to make now, as the GOP had no problem when Trump called CEOs and voiced opinion about private and public companies.
There’s a massive gulf between state and local GOP officials and Washington, D.C., policy makers. Mayors and governors gladly took the recent stimulus funds included in the American Rescue Plan. D.C. Republicans voted against it.
Immigration: This may be the most dramatic change of all. Former GOP Presidents including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush spoke frequently about how valuable immigrants were for refreshing and renewing American society. Trump blew all that up. He got to the White House by demonizing Mexicans and Muslims, and he made sure the rest of the party toed that line. Now where is the GOP on major immigration issues? Are they for welcoming foreign students who study in America as permanent citizens (a huge plus for the country)? Are they for a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers or undocumented immigrants? What about reforming asylum laws? Refugees? Work visas? There is a wider ideological gulf internally between Republicans on this issue than between the two parties.
They conclude that "the GOP still revolves around one figure: Trump. There are many who want that to end, but they’re too afraid to say it because they fear the backlash from the base. They don’t have to figure this all out now. For now, Republicans are in the minority. They’re an opposition party, and it's easy to be against Biden. But at some point, they’re going to have to resolve these ideological and policy disputes if the GOP is to survive as an effective partner in the two-party system. And it won’t be easy."
Remember when the Republican Party really stood for something? No? Me neither-- and I'm sold that I remember this ad! As for the Senate? It's devolved over time into a toxic anachronism that should be either abolished entirely or transformed into an honorific and advisory body.