Republicans Nuclear Option is Blessing in Disguise for American Democracy
President Donald Trump and Republicans were determined to appoint Neil Gorsuch to succeed Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the majority of his Democratic colleagues were determined to block his appointment. Republicans didn’t have the 60 votes to avoid a filibuster so they had to blow-up the current rules, changing the 60 vote cloture requirement for Supreme Court nominations to a simple 51 vote majority of the 100 seat Senate. Republicans exploding the 60 vote rule is a blessing in disguise, possibly the greatest triumph in our lifetime for true democratic rule.
Traditionally the Senate has tried to act as the “cooling sauce” to the passions of the Congress. The theory being that emotional debate was allowed even encouraged in deciding what actions the House should take.
Their action was passed over to the Senate where they would apply calmer less emotional sober debate, to determine what action they should take. Most times because they would come to different solutions they both would have to settle on a compromise.
This compromise worked because it was a blend of the emotion and logic that everyone could live with.
Days of Two Party Cooperation Are Over
Unfortunately that model is now obsolete. The 1990’s Republican “Contract with America” injected the toxic policy that brought the House and Senate to the current bitter partisan divide.
It wasn’t the written terms of the contract that were toxic, but the unwritten rules fiercely enforced by then Speaker Newt Gingrich. No hanging out with or socializing with Democrats. Prior to this there were Democrats and Republicans who shared living quarters during their stays in Washington.
Imagine the opportunities that these type of interactions gave for honest thoughtful non-political dialogue between opposing political opponents. Even if minds were not changed a degree of empathy for one’s opponent and their cause developed paving the road to compromise.
It was this pre “Contract with America” thinking that led to the 60 vote threshold in the Senate. Most mistakenly think this is a constitutional requirement, it is not. It’s a well-meaning rule created to foster consensus and bi-partisanship. To avoid one party rule and bitter partisanship.
Third Political Party with Voting Clout Needed
The current political climate makes those days history. The day of voluntary bi-partisanship is over. A new model for the new reality is now required.
Republicans applying the nuclear option paves the way for the creation of the new model. Democrats should not fear Republicans nuking the 60 vote cloture rule, because bitter partisanship since the 1990’s has produced de-facto one party rule.
Since 2001 major initiatives only occur when one party controls both Houses of Congress and the White House.
2001–2006 when Republicans had complete control it was the war on terror with both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 2009–2011 when Democrats had complete control it was Obamacare and ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. From 2012–2016 with one party control of one chamber of Congress and the White House, we have had a little progress but mostly obstruction, government shutdowns and sequestered budgets.
The Contract with America era Denny Hastert rule currently enforced in the House, stops legislation from getting a floor vote that can’t pass without Democratic Party votes. Eliminating the 60 vote closure rule for judicial appointments is step one to accomplishing the same thing in the Senate. Senator John McCain correctly says it’s a “slippery slope”. He fears in the future all cloture barriers that stop proposals from coming to the Senate floor for a vote will be eliminated.
If all it takes is 51 people of any political stripe to vote yes for proposals to become law, it’s easier for a third or fourth political party to join Democrats and Republicans on the playing field of the Senate. There are already 2 independent party Senators, Angus King and Bernie Sanders.
The current 60 vote threshold was designed with only the Democratic and Republican Party’s in mind. Lowering it to 51 means that adding only 3 more independent Senators could yield massive reductions to the current political obstruction. Even reducing the influence of the ruling party’s Vice-Presidential vote.
A third or fourth political party winning enough Senate seats to deny both Republicans and Democrats a ruling majority, forces all Party’s to reach compromise to perform the constitutional duties of the Senate.
Partnership Forces Compromise, Compromise Eliminates Obstruction
No longer would Democrats or Republicans have the luxury of
saying it’s either the Democratic way or the Republican way. It would have to be the Democratic or Republican way in partnership with another party. In other words de facto 2 party rule.
Hopefully the success of this new model would spread like cancer over to the House. No one political party could even elect the Speaker of the House without votes from a second or third political party.
We can get a glimpse of how this can reduce one party rule through the healthcare drama playing out. Republican President Trump is floating the idea of cutting a deal with Democrats on repair of Obamacare, not repeal. His political pragmatism motivates him to solve the problem in the most expedient way, not in the way that best matches his political ideology.
When no political party can empower themselves with only their votes alone, all political party’s have to become more pragmatic and less political.
More pragmatism guarantees less political obstruction. The inaction of the last decade will become a thing of the past. That inaction is coming to end now for a different reason. Republicans now control everything and don’t need any Democratic buy-in except for the 60 vote cloture rules.
Republican control gave them the ability at any time during the next 2 years to change the 60 vote requirement. Whether they did it for Gorsuch or the next Supreme Court vacancy they were going to drop the A bomb blowing up the 60 vote rule.
To the Democrats that said stand down now and save the filibuster for the one that counts, the game changing Kennedy replacement vote on the Court. I say step aside and let the filibuster, the renewal and birth of a new model begin.
Yes there will be repeal of past Democratic initiatives and defeat of current ones in the short term. That’s happening now, there’s nothing Democrats can do to stop it. Democrats have no control in the current 2 party system.
But long term simple 1 vote majority rule will lead to the
inclusion of multiple political party’s in our legislative process.
This diversity will make us stronger. It will make us more politically efficient by assuring that we are all represented in America’s democratic legislative process.
Mitch McConnell thanks for Nuking away!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective into current events. Drop by his blog for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.