In my previous post, I talked about how Republicans broke an “unwritten rule” when it came to the filibuster. While I’m not alone in saying “It’s about time!” I’m also aware of the various reasons behind the Senate’s unwillingness to change the filibuster rules. This is not, by any means, a “new discussion,” in that filibuster reform has been talked about for quite some time, with serious pushes being made by Senator Merkley over the past two sessions. So why do it now?
In 2010, the reason it failed was, quite simply … fear. What happened then was that Democrats had not only lost their majority in the House, they’d taken losses in the Senate. Faced with a somewhat strong possibility that they might lose control of the Senate – remember, quite a number of seats were considered “vulnerable” – and Senator McConnell made strong efforts to persuade Senator Reid that the Republicans in the Senate would behave … responsibly. With that, as well as not having enough votes on the Democratic side, Senator Reid let the existing rule stand. At the beginning of this year, there was yet another effort to change the filibuster rule, and once again, Senator McConnell made promises, particularly that the Republicans would not continuously block presidential nominees. Some changes still went through, for example, the “blind hold” was removed, which meant that a senator wishing to block (filibuster) a nominee had to do so publicly. But the key fact was that, despite the whining of the frustrati, there were not enough votes to change the filibuster rule.
How bad has it been? This chart shows the reality:
In 5 years, Republicans have forced almost two-and-a-half times the total number of votes to end a filibuster than were seen in eight years of President Bush. That’s bad enough, so what changed? The Republicans overstepped:
The last straw came when Republicans announced their intention to filibuster all of Obama’s nominees to the DC circuit court simply because they didn’t want a Democratic president to be able to fill any more vacancies. At that point, even moderate Democrats had finally had enough. For all practical purposes, Republicans had declared war on Obama’s very legitimacy as president, forbidding him from carrying out a core constitutional duty.
Not “We have concerns about their judicial philosophy” or “We don’t think they’re qualified.” Instead, it comes down to “Because fuck you, that’s why!” After years of watching them go back on their word, this was the point where it finally tipped the moderates. The realization that any chance the Republicans could be trusted to “do the right thing eventually” was gone.
To me, this is an indicator of just how far down the Republican Party has been dragged by the Tea Party and the ultra-conservative bases. They have been damaged – if not outright destroyed – as a functioning partner in governance. In the system of government we have, there has to be an element of trust. That is, there are certain social contracts, “unwritten rules,” that are used to keep things functioning. Among them is the notion that you are negotiating “in good faith.” That is, both sides want to reach an agreement. As a corollary, once an agreement has been reached, both will abide by it. What we’ve seen this past year is that the Republican Party can’t negotiate in good faith. That was made clear in the government shutdown debates, as Speaker Boehner continuously had any deals scuttled by his own members, and in McConnell’s inability (or unwillingness) to stand by agreements made in the Senate.
It’s the removal of that element of trust that caused the nuclear option to be played by the Democrats. It’s something that the Republicans can scream about all they want, but the hard reality is that they brought it on themselves. They’ve shown they can’t be trusted in the most fundamental way necessary to be part of the government: To keep their agreements. It may play well with their extreme base, but in the longer run, it means they will have a very hard time getting something done when they need Democratic support. Why? Because no one trusts them anymore. It’ll be a long time before that trust can be rebuilt, and today’s Republican Party isn’t going to be able to do it.