Republicans Would Scrap the Filibuster If They Needed to. Democrats Should End It Now
In late 2016, Senate Majority Leader McConnell weaponized a distorted version of a Joe Biden Senate speech as a key part of the Republican excuse to kill President Obama’s Merrick Garland, Supreme Court nomination. Joe Biden delivered his speech on June 25, 1992, noting his disquiet about presidents nominating a Supreme Court justice in the midst of a presidential election campaign. Over two decades later, Biden’s public brainstorming about the timing and processing of Supreme Court nominations was lied about, labeled by Mitch McConnell as “The Biden Rule” and then used to secure an additional Supreme Court seat for the GOP.
If Democrats do not abolish or drastically reform the filibuster now, when Republicans regain control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Presidency it is nearly certain that they will end the filibuster. Just as they marshaled a fictional Biden Rule to abort a Supreme Court nomination, Republicans will use the current debate among Democrats concerning the ending of the Senate filibuster to justify getting rid of the practice.
Republicans have consistently demonstrated a pattern of resorting to whatever level of ruthlessness is required to achieve their political ends. They often mischaracterize or lie about how Democrats would do the same, if Democrats had the chance. If only that were true, some might respond.
The 2022 midterm elections will be preceded by additional, militantly partisan gerrymandering in red states. Moreover, some Republican dominated states will also gain reapportioned House seats due to increases in state population. Combine that with a tendency for the party-in-power to lose congressional seats in midterm elections. The only real hope for Democratic success in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections in 2022 is for President Biden and the Democrats to enact a highly visible, positive, big-impact agenda, including items that obviate Republican voter suppression efforts. That can only be accomplished over intransigent Republican opposition if Democrats get rid of the filibuster or broadly reform it.
Democrats have every justification for dumping the filibuster. Consider the Republicans’ record: the GOP’s continuing collaboration in delegitimizing the 2020 presidential election; its coddling of foreign meddling in American elections; its withholding of legislative good faith; and its widespread, state-level demonizing and hamstringing of Democratic voters. Indeed, over just a few hours, on March 25, 2021 the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature rammed through a “massive overhaul” of the state’s election laws, quickly signed by the governor, designed to reduce voting by mail, as well as making it more burdensome to vote in person. Earlier schemes by Republicans to weaken state level offices after losing them to Democrats in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and now Georgia showcase the GOP’s obsessive impulse towards scorched earth opposition when Democrats win elections.
Republicans are also doubling down on their shameless revisionism regarding what transpired during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. Today, few Republican leaders will publicly condemn the violence of January 6 at the nation’s Capitol. The majority of the GOP’s officialdom is frantically preoccupied with trying to get that searing, pivotal moment into the rearview mirror. They’re not doing so by persistently supporting efforts to track down and prosecute individuals who participated in the violence and vandalism at the Capitol.
Republicans are not even distancing themselves from the Inciter-in-Chief, former President Trump. Senate Minority Leader McConnell has said, for example, that he would “absolutely” support Trump again if he were the party’s nominee in 2024. McConnell spewed that bit of shamelessness just a bit after excoriating Trump for, among other things, a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and for provoking the mob to attack the Capitol. Is the McConnell-McCarthy led GOP acting as if there is any serious, good faith business to be done with them?
Notwithstanding their feathery criticism of Trump and his cult members, the vast majority of Republicans in the party’s base and in Congress are now supporting Trump’s deceitful claims about “election fraud.” The Republican Party is now openly and aggressively shedding any pretense of competing fairly and democratically for political office.
There is a vile audacity in what the GOP is doing. Its members largely acquiesce in or actively disseminate the unfounded claims about election fraud, the meritless nature of which has been exposed by well over 60 judges at every level and across the entire American political spectrum. In the most recent case, a state court in Arizona ordered the Arizona GOP to pay over $18,000 in legal fees to the state’s Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, because of the frivolous nature of the GOP’s litigation over the presidential election. It’s a bacchanal of dissembling, with Republicans hawking a noxious antidote for the political poison they disgorged into the nation’s politics. The Republican Party is propelling the concept of chutzpah to the outer fringes. No amount of wishful outreach by Democrats or even the most ardent effort to nurture bipartisanship will change the remorseless, free-fire style of Republican political practice.
Finally, Republicans have jettisoned the principle that political parties often lose elections in democracies and that such losses are a time to regroup and rethink and modulate policies and candidates for the next election. Instead the Republican Party seems to operate on the assumption that political success requires the uninterrupted holding on to power and the deploying of brute force in pursuit of that goal. It’s as if Republicans are in some unyielding quest to establish an interminable Republican Party Reich.
The political dynamic of today gives both political parties powerful reasons to abolish the filibuster, depending on which party is in control of the Presidency and Congress. If Democrats today restrain themselves and leave the filibuster alone, they will find that the GOP will block everything of importance that the Democrats want to achieve. That would likely increase the chances of Democrats losing their already precarious hold on both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterms. The GOP would also realize that such an outcome would ensure that the last remaining opposition to ending the filibuster among Democrats would end.
In that scenario, realizing that Democrats would end the filibuster the next time they controlled the Congress and the Presidency, Republicans will promptly get rid of the Senate filibuster. The GOP could then inflict a retrograde Republican agenda on the nation, affecting topics like abortion, firearms regulation, separation of church and state, entitlement reform, police “reform,” health care, environmental regulation, energy policy, research and development, education, climate change, worker and consumer rights, court jurisdiction, civil rights, criminal justice, tort reform, and the regulation of business.
So the only suspense now is whether the Democrats will eliminate the filibuster or drastically limit its use as a tool of obstruction before Republicans do it. Democrats have little to lose and a lot to gain by pulling the trigger on the filibuster now, even sooner if possible.