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Now that they control all of Congress, some Republicans are suddenly deciding that the filibuster should be repealed.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