The GOP's lost its mind and needs an intervention. Take away the filibuster.
The current minority party's goal isn't to have a voice -- but to seize power, anti-democratically.
“Revolution” at the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2021. photo: Tyler Merbler, license: CC BY-ND 2.0
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Progressives have discussed the many reasons why the Senate filibuster — which allows any bill to be forced to a 60-vote threshold — must go. As President Obama noted at the late John Lewis’s funeral, the filibuster, a relic of Jim Crow America, was used to block civil rights and keep power consolidated among the white majority.
That’s only become worse and it will continue, as millions of Americans who live in more diverse California or New York, for example, have less representation — and thus less power — in the Senate than the relatively few people (most of them white) who live in Wyoming or North Dakota. Presidents are forced to do more today than 50 years ago via executive action to get anything done. So, less and less legislation gets passed by the representatives of the people — which isn’t healthy for a democracy.
But even if the the most plausible defense of the filibuster is taken seriously — that it gives the minority party the ability to have a voice, and, if used sparingly, keeps the majority from running roughshod — the GOP simply doesn’t deserve it and can’t be trusted with it. And it shouldn’t be rewarded for horrendous, menacing behavior.
Republicans have not only escalated the abuse of the filibuster for the past several decades — Senate records show it went from being used less than 10 times per session in the 1960s to being used hundreds of times by Obama’s second term — but everything the party has done during Donald Trump’s term and more so in recent weeks has defined the party, including too many Republicans in the Senate, as an anti-democratic party in the grip of authoritarianism.
They’re openly defending the stealing of elections and throwing out votes. Those GOP senators who voted not to certify the Electoral College results helped perpetuate the Big Lie that led to a well-planned domestic terror attack on the Capitol by an angry, violent mob, which we’ve learned included people who were targeting Democratic lawmakers with death and some who wanted to execute the GOP vice president. And yet, a number of Senate Republicans now appear headed toward acquitting Trump, the man who incited the insurrection, in his impeachment trial.
How and why should a party like this be trusted, let alone allowed to retain a tool that is easily abused — and which they have in fact abused for years — enabling further obstruction of democracy? The GOP is deep in a dangerous cult and needs an intervention. Anything it can use to harm democracy must be taken from its hands.
The New York Times revealed over the weekend that Trump, when all else failed, was going to fire Acting Attorney General Rosen and replace him with a Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, someone far below the acting attorney general, who would move to try to overturn the election. Then we learned that a Pennsylvania Republican congressman, Scott Perry, was integral in engineering this — yet another coup attempt:
It was Mr. Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who first made Mr. Trump aware that a relatively obscure Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of the civil division, was sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s view that the election had been stolen, according to former administration officials who spoke with Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump.
And yet, there’s been no comment or accountability from GOP leaders — and again, many GOP senators are set on acquitting Trump of inciting an insurrection.
Mitch McConnell is right now obstructing the Biden administration and Democrats from doing urgent business by refusing to sign off on the power-sharing agreement — which allows Democrats, who’ve taken the Senate with Vice President Harris as the tie-breaker, to chair committees and set the agenda — unless Democrats agree not to kill the filibuster. (Democrats, rightly, have adamantly refused, not because they have the votes to end the filibuster but because they’re not going to let McConnell run the Senate.) This, in itself, proves why McConnell should not have the filibuster as a tool: He’s only hellbent on obstructing.
It’s in this context that GOP senators are now pushing back against Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package meant to urgently get money to people who are suffering and stimulate the economy that Trump sent into a rapid downward spiral. And they’re already obstructing, with Maine’s Senator Susan Collins being sent out to balk at the price tag and the amount of the checks Americans get sent and who gets them, and saying she’s heading into more meetings with her concern — all of which will slow things down.
Americans need relief now, and Democrats will likely have to pass the bill via budget reconciliation, which will allow for it to pass with 51 votes. But most bills, certainly those that don’t affect the budget, can’t be passed that way. Important votes on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and a slew of other important issues will be filibustered by this reckless party that has only the goal of taking power.
Right now Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona have said they are opposed to ending the filibuster, and every Democratic Senate vote would be needed if it’s to end. Biden, who likely wants to see what can be done on a bipartisan basis where it’s possible before moving to budget reconciliation when he can, has himself said he doesn’t support ending the filibuster.
But if it’s a matter of getting nothing done in the next four years — and Democrats may only have the Senate for two years, as there are Senate seats that are up in 2022 — he might change his mind. And Biden and the Democratic leadership will have to pressure any Democrats opposed to ending the filibuster to change their minds.
Any concerns about ending the filibuster and then seeing the GOP use it against Democrats when they have control of the White House and Congress are moot. If Democrats don’t end the filibuster now and get done what they can, Republicans will likely end it when they’re back in control, now that the talk of it is out there, because they are hellbent on power. After then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster during the Obama years for federal judges, except for the Supreme Court — because McConnell was obstructing Obama putting judges on the federal courts — McConnell then removed the filibuster for Supreme Court justices under Trump, and allowed Trump to stack the court.
As had been discussed a lot during the election campaign, the Supreme Court can be expanded, Washington DC can be made a state — with two new senators — and so much else can be done to right the wrongs of the Trump era if the filibuster were gone.
But it’t not only urgent that we end the filibuster because of obstruction attempts and to fix the damage Trump and the GOP have done. It’s almost more urgent we kill it now because any tool in the hands of the GOP that enables it to thwart the majority is dangerous. The Republican Party is now an authoritarian party, rife with abuse, disinformation, cult logic and fascistic thinking. It doesn’t respect our democracy. And it surely doesn’t deserve respect from the rest of us.