The Wannabe Intimidater

I’m not sure how or exactly when it will happen but I feel the filibuster will most likely be amended or perhaps completely done away with before the end of 2021. The only things that I think can stop that from happening are a true compromise deal from Mitch McConnell or the Democrats losing the control of the Senate. That’s a lot to “chew” so let’s start “eating”.

I’ll take my scenarios in reverse. I really don’t see a defection – the most likely candidate being Joe Manchin of West Virginia– to the Republicans so I’ll discount that one for now. (More on that below.) If a Democratic Senator from a state with a Republican governor were to die that governor would replace them with a Republican. Forget about any other factors including age; all Senators are mortal.

Now to the present. Republican Senate Minority Leader McConnell is obviously running the same “offense” that worked for him in the past – obstruct anything Joe Biden presents. Just look at this month. The motion to proceed with debate on the American Rescue Plan passed by a 51-50, Kamala Harris tie breaking vote. Mitch got all his Republicans to refuse to even discuss it despite the obvious need and overwhelming popularity among the citizens. The actual bill itself passed 50-49 with Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska too busy to come to work on a Saturday. (How many of you have worked a Saturday when you would have rather been attending to family business?) If you are waiting for 10 or more Republican Senators to defy Mitch and break ranks you best feed the unicorns on your lawn.
Last week McConnell took to the floor of the Senate to threaten that if the filibuster were taken away from him he would not play nice. Is that opposed to all the cooperation and bipartisanship we are seeing now?

The Senate does, to a great degree, run on unanimous consent. Most routine procedures do not go to time-consuming roll call votes. McConnell can stop that cooperation but he does so at his own personal and political peril. I’m one of the few political junkies who more than occasionally actually watches the Senate on C-SPAN II. Let’s just put it this way; it doesn’t resemble an NBA fast break. Most of the time the vast majority of Senators aren’t even on the floor and it seems more time is spent in quorum calls (don’t ask if you don’t already know) or just plain nothing happening. If McConnell wants to take everything to a vote that means Senators, including his caucus, will have to spend a lot more time on the floor or at least dashing in and out of the chambers. They are not going to like that and will quickly blame him. If the Senate becomes even less productive the Democrats can lay the blame at the feet of the Republicans and use it in campaigns against Republican incumbents.

Remember Chuck Schumer still controls the agenda and he can simply extend the in-session hours to accommodate the delay tactic. In other words Republican Senators (along with their Democratic peers) would be required to spend more hours on or near the floor. That would most likely include weekends – which we know Dan Sullivan doesn’t like working. How long before Mitch would be replace Ted Cruz as the leading candidate for a blanket party?

Now let’s look at the Democratic side with special attention to the holdouts on changing the filibuster. There are two tiers of holdouts: the reluctant and the opposed. The reductants are all but on board already and will take the plunge when it comes to the vote Schumer won’t call until he knows he has his caucus in line. The opposed faction is probably down to two: Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Manchin is probably the only person today in West Virginia who can win statewide as a Democrat. I see no advantage (and perhaps a strong electoral disadvantage come reelection time) to him switching political parties. That said, he cannot be seen as a far left Democrat who quickly falls in line behind Schumer. The delay he has already caused gives him the political cover he needs in his home state. While Sinema is a unique and intelligent individual who is not a blindly follow the leader type; I doubt she will be the last person standing. When Manchin decides the time is right (and I don’t think that is far away) Schumer has the votes.

Schumer has to make the move when he has the votes. There is simply too much on the line policy wise and politically. The people gave the Democrats control in order to get some popular changes enacted. The average American doesn’t understand how slim the margins are and certainly doesn’t care about filibusters and Senate Parliamentarian rulings. They want someone to punish if they don’t get the results they want and that will be the Democrats in 2022 if the electorate is unhappy.

Various Democratic constituencies are looking for action on issues like climate change, voting rights, infrastructure, immigration, consumer protection, gun regulation and collective bargaining among others. The Republicans will oppose all of them. How do Democrats go back to the electorate in 2022 and say we accomplished almost none of what you wanted us to so elect more of us?

Remember my political philosophy: Americans almost exclusively vote against candidates (or policies) not for them. If you see a large crowd at a School Board or County Commissioner’s meeting it’s because the people are largely unhappy.

I think that Mitch McConnell is one of the most astute politicians in American history. He is a Master of the Senate the likes of which we have not seen since Lyndon Johnson. However, this time he is either bluffing or making a threat that will backfire on him. Chuck Schumer has no choice but to call his bluff if he wants any chance of staying Majority Leader and achieving any objectives. It’s simply a matter of time and degree but the filibuster as currently constructed is on its way out.

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