Sometimes I hate it when my predictions come true. This is partly because my predictions tend to be cynical and so when I’m right, bad things happen to the country. But it’s also because a surprising number of my predictions deal with Senate rules of procedure, which are both vitally important and brutally dull to everyone except me. Please accept this adorable kitten as an apology:
Over the summer, President Obama simultaneously nominated three super-qualified lawyers to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The empty seats on the court needed filling, but the main reason the president did this was essentially to dare Republicans in the Senate to filibuster them. Republicans, in subtle violation of an informal agreement between the majority leader Harry Reid and the minority leader Mitch McConnell, had been filibustering a wide variety of Obama nominees to everything from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the EPA. The plan was to force this violation into the open, thereby making Republicans confirm the Obama nominees or risk pissing off enough senators to prompt a rule change. There are all sorts of good ideas for filibuster reform — Senator Jeff Merkley has many of them — and I was really excited by the prospect that this plan might allow some of them to be implemented. But it didn’t. Republicans filibustered those nominees on Thursday. This will almost certainly not lead to reform, for the very basic reason that voters don’t care much about filibuster rules. And while I like to think our legislators are brave, public-spirited men and women who are willing to do what’s right for the country even when they won’t benefit politically, I haven’t completely forgotten everything that’s ever happened in the history of American politics. Congress literally took food out of the mouths of starving people yesterday. I’m not holding my breath on unprompted filibuster reform.
So the question is, how can filibuster reform be made politically viable? Because, make no mistake, these filibusters have serious consequences; most recently, as Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick team up to point out, they’re allowing conservative judges to run roughshod over established reproductive rights. Assuming the president isn’t about to go on a national whistle-stop tour in support of the talking filibuster, I think a populist uprising is unlikely. Assuming neither side is willing to make substantive policy concessions in return for filibuster reform — and rightly so, since it doesn’t actually benefit either side — it isn’t going to emerge in the upcoming possible budget deal or any other deal. So it seems to me that the only way to make it happen is through a flagrant abuse of the filibuster on an issue with widespread political support. Keep in mind, Republicans filibustered background checks on gun sales in the weeks after the Newtown shooting, and that wasn’t enough to prompt rules changes. This filibuster needs to be loud, obnoxious and unpopular, and it needs to specifically bother senators. I know just the man for the job.
Senator Ted Cruz is widely despised in the Senate, showed remarkable strategic myopia in basically causing the government shutdown, and loves an opportunity to grandstand. If the right issue arises — maybe a Supreme Court nomination? — he might just be crazy enough to save the Senate (and America) from itself.
Photo credits: wall and cat from Wikimedia Commons, Ted Cruz from flickr user Gage Skidmore
This week: If you’re not following the Wyoming Republican Senate primary, then you’re missing one of the weirdest elections in America. Read Molly Ball at the Atlantic for good coverage, or read former Senator Alan Simpson’s 2000-word letter rebuking Liz Cheney (yes, that Cheney): “I’ve been called fool, idiot, boob, bonehead, dink, slob, greenie, soot-covered slob, all the rest… I’ve never been called one particularly offensive name – and that is, a liar. And this is what Lynne Cheney said in her statement about this sad evening.”