Republicans Suddenly Discover They’re Against The Filibuster

Now that they control all of Congress, some Republicans are suddenly deciding that the filibuster should be repealed.

Filibuster

After some five years in which Senate Republicans were extremely effective in using the filibuster to blunt Democratic initiatives in the Senate, it seems that the tide has turned:

The No. 2 Republican in the House said on Sunday that the Senate should exercise the “nuclear option” and get rid of the filibuster to resolve the standoff over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Senate Democrats have used the filibuster to block legislation that would have funded the DHS while defunding President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Even though Republicans opposed getting rid of the filibuster when Democrats controlled the Senate, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the party should do so now.

“I don’t think going nuclear when you have 57 percent of the Senate voted for the Collins amendment that would take away the president’s action,” McCarthy said on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” referring to the amendment introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would not fund the president’s recently announced executive actions on immigration, but would leave in place the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“That’s not nuclear, when 57 percent of the American representation says it’s wrong. That’s not in the Constitution,” McCarthy said. “I think they should change the rules.”

McCarthy isn’t the first Republican to raise the idea of repealing the legislative filibuster in response to the inability of Senate Republicans to push the House’s version of a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security through the Senate due to a solid Democratic minority blocking the bill via the cloture vote, which is effectively the modern version of the classic filibuster. Other Congressional Republicans have been calling on their Senate colleagues to do this since the beginning of February, and the idea appears to have originated with, or at least made popular by, talk radio host Mark Levin, who has been saying for the better part of the past month that the Senate Republicans should eliminate the filibuster or at least suspend it for the remainder of President Obama’s term in office. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that, so far at least, the idea has not been endorsed by a single Senate Republican. Even a Senate firebrand like Ted Cruz is dismissing the idea:

As the Senate stands at an impasse over how to fund the Department of Homeland Security over the issue of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, some conservatives in the House are urging the Senate to change the filibuster rules. They argue that House Republican bills could get then through the upper chamber more easily.

The idea gained traction this morning at a conservative event on the Hill where Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas both encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take away the right of Democrats to filibuster. Labrador said, “Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate, and this is important enough to change the rules of the Senate,” according to National Journal.

Later at a joint press conference, House and Senate Republicans took turns decrying Senate Democrats for not allowing a vote on the Republican DHS bill. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina encouraged McConnell to “take away the ability to filibuster without actually working, make them go to the floor, make them speak, make them stand there for 18 hours.” Currently, a senator can stage stage a filibuster without having to be present on the Senate floor.

Yet at the very same press conference on the very same stage, cold water was thrown on that idea by the very Republican who has used the filibuster perhaps most effectively over his time in Congress — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. When asked by NBC News about House conservatives demands for a rule change, Cruz replied, “I think the Senate rules wisely protect the minority and they have served as the framers put it ‘to allow the Senate to be the — cooler — the saucer that cools the hot temperatures of the moment.”

“The answer, I believe, is not to change the Senate rules, the answer is for Senate Democrats not to be obstructionists,” Cruz added.

Freshman Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan has similarly dismissed the idea of eliminating the filibuster, saying “I don’t think that’s an option we’re looking at right now.” More important that Cruz or Sullivan, though, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Senate leadership, who have shown absolutely no inclination toward making any changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules beyond those enacted by the Democrats in November 2013. Indeed, based on his past statements it seems unlikely that McConnell has any real desire to eliminate the legislative filibuster, in no small part because he likely recognizes that doing so would be against his own party’s long-term interests in the event that they end up back in the Senate minority again, which will likely happen at some point in the future. Additionally, even if McConnell were personally inclined to venture down this road, he probably wouldn’t have the majority he would need to change the rules. Much like Harry Reid found veteran Senate Democrats opposed to his effort to eliminate the filibuster for Cabinet appointments and judicial appointments below the Supreme Court level, McConnell would likely find that veteran Republicans like Orrin Hatch, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins would be opposed to the kind of radical change that people like McCarthy and Levin are proposing. Given all of that, it’s unlikely that Senate Republicans will actually attempt what the radicals in the House and the blowhards on talk radio are calling on them to do.

Leaving that aside, there is obviously no small degree of irony, or perhaps the better word for it is chutzpah, in Republicans calling for the repeal of the Senate filibuster a mere eight weeks after they formally took control of Congress given the fact that they so skillfully used that portion of the Senate rules during the preceding five years. Indeed, during that time, one was more likely to find Republicans in general and conservatives in particular praising the filibuster as a necessary element in the operation of government. Of course, at the same time, Democrats were condemning it as an example of Republican and intransigence and gridlock. Now that the balance of power has changed, the respective positions of the parties has changed significantly. Democrats who once denounced the filibuster now suddenly find it very useful, and Republicans who embraced it for the past five years are suddenly screaming for its repeal. I suppose you can call that hypocrisy, but it’s really just politics. Although, to be honest, I am no longer sure that there’s any significant difference between the two.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    2016

  2. KM says:

    We danced this dance before. Again and again, the same clumsy partners, same awkward moves. They hate the song when it’s their toes being crushed but eagerly swing back in when they can do the stepping-on.

    Time to change the music but for god’s sake don’t let any of them DJ.

  3. Kylopod says:

    The fact that politicians are politicians and change their positions on a dime shouldn’t distract us from recognizing that the filibuster is really a rotten feature of our system.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    They don’t really want to get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster in Democratic hands is all that keeps the Republican crazies from passing laws that would kill the GOP’s political chances for a generation. Establishment GOP knows this.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Please? Please please please please do it. You are right. The Democrats are abusing the fillibuster (the same way you did), so let’s get rid of it. I can’t think of a better time politically. With this particular bill, the Republicans will get to vote against Obama’s immigration actions, so they get a win. Obama will just veto the bill anyway, so the Democrats don’t lose (if anything it riles up the base and is a net political win). The upcoming 2016 election trends Democratic, but is not nearly as much of a shoe-in for the Democrats as 2014 was for the Republicans, so even that calculus is mooted.

    If not now, when?

    If this is the one thing the Republicans do before 2016, history will look kindly on them.

  6. This is news? Raise your hand if you didn’t see this coming. Then hold your head in shame and walk away quietly.

  7. Democrats who once denounced the filibuster now suddenly find it very useful, and Republicans who embraced it for the past five years are suddenly screaming for its repeal. I suppose you can call that hypocrisy, but it’s really just politics. Although, to be honest, I am no longer sure that there’s any significant difference between the two.

    In this sense they are, indeed, all basically the same: politicians who understand the advantages and disadvantages of the rules of the game.

    Having said that, I am with Neil Hudelson, let’s get rid of it (but anyone who has read anything I have written on this topic over the last several years will not be surprised by my position).

  8. rodney dill says:

    @KM: The amazing thing about a dancing bear is not how gracefully it dances, but that it dances at all.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: @Russell Newquist: This is the number two GOP in the House. He and Boehner will want to bitch about the Senate and the Dems and the filibuster, but they know they need it to keep the crazies off their backs.

  10. stonetools says:

    Yep, do it , Republicans, DO IT.
    Kill the filibuster, then pass a bunch of stupid @ss legislation to please your base. You’ll soon find the public and the media will be BEGGING the President to veto your offerings and then we have a clear choice between the crazy annd the rational come 2016.
    One of the (many problems) with the filibuster is the way it obscures just who is responsible for Congressional screwups, leading to headlines like

    “The Democrats fail to pass JOBS Act by 59-41 margin”.

    Abolishing the filibuster will at least clarify things-and Obama will still be there to prevent the worst.

  11. Just Me says:

    When Relublicans used the filibuster they were terrorists holding the US hostage.

    When democrats use the filibuster the GOL are terrorists u holding the US hostage.

    Personally I like the filibuster for legislation at east but I would like to see them create a rule that you actually have to filibuster-be present, read the phone book or whatever but you don’t get to do it in paper.

    I dont want the GOP or the Democrats to go with the nuclear option.

    McConnell sucks though and Reid will run circles around him in he minority just as he ran circles around him when the GOP was the minority.

    the dumbest thing the GOP did was reelect the same lame leadership.

  12. edmondo says:

    Why the surprise? They are merely following the lead of the head Republican:

    President Barack Obama argued in a new interview that the Senate should all-but eliminate the use of the filibuster,

    http://time.com/3701079/obama-filibuster/

  13. Gavrilo says:

    Alternate headline:

    Democrats Suddenly Discover They’re In Favor Of The Filibuster

  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Yeah, except for all these Democrats on this very thread arguing the opposite…

  15. C. Clavin says:

    Reid should have done away with it when it benefited him. Now Republicans are going to do the predictable thing…like no one saw this coming…and Democrats get no immediate benefit.
    What Republicans should be forced to answer for is why they cannot accomplish anything without changing the very same rule they argued against getting rid of just a short time ago.
    Of course…they won’t. That would require a functioning Fourth Estate.

  16. MarkedMan says:

    OK, so I’m a progressive and I think it would be good for the country if the Repubs killed the fillibuster as it would be extremely unlikely the Dems would bring it back when they return to the majority. And however useful it was when used sparingly and only for the most deeply felt beliefs, it hasn’t been used that way by either party for a couple of decades. Those who would hold onto it want to hold onto what it was in the past, not what it is today. A legislature cannot function with a de facto requirement of 60% majority for any significant legislation.

    It would be bad for the country in the short term because it would give Repubs more power and they really truly are the party of stupid nowadays. But it would still be worth it.

  17. John D'Geek says:

    Mark Twain probably said it best: “Suppose I were a idiot. And suppose I were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

  18. Katharsis says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Agreed. We learned this lesson in CA with our budget. Supermajority requirements clog up the system while hamstringing actual governing in favor of the status quo. This typically benefits anti-gov zealots while keeping the people in the dark. We got rid of our supermajority requirement in CA and suddenly our budget became manageable.

    Often times making mistakes serves as a more powerful lesson than cooler temperaments. For good or ill, America should get the Senate that it votes for.