Is Right-Wing Senator DeMint the Biggest Obstructionist in History?

by Faiz Shakir, Benjamin Armbruster, George Zornick, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, and Tanya Somanader

The Progress Report recently documented how the United States Senate has earned its reputation as the world's greatest deliberative body -- not because of what is being debated, but for how long the "debate," particularly because of the GOP minority -- carries on. Senate Republicans have brought the upper chamber to a virtual standstill, abusing filibuster and hold rules and using delay tactics to block anything remotely progressive from passing through. This week, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) took that obstruction to a whole new level, warning his colleagues on Monday night that "he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been 'hot-lined' by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday." Roll Call noted that DeMint's office has objected to hot-lining -- or fast-tracking -- legislation for years, but his "threat to essentially shut down legislation in the chamber is remarkable." Republicans and Democrats said that DeMint "had essentially made a unilateral decision to end legislative activity in the Senate."

SAME OLD DEMINT: "Hot-lining" is a process in which the two Senate leaders poll their caucuses to see if any senator objects to passing a bill. If no one raises an objection, than the bill is fast-tracked for passage. As the Wonk Room's Ian Millhiser noted, "[u]nless all 100 senators agree to begin and end debate on a bill without objection, the dissenting senators can force up to 60 hours of uninterrupted debate before a final vote can take place" -- 30 hours after debate begins and 30 hours after debate ends. The Huffington Post reported that one of DeMint's colleagues on the other side of the aisle said that his obstruction has been ongoing since President Obama came to office. "It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process," Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-OR) said yesterday. "When I have had amendments on a couple of occasions, I have been told: 'Absolutely, we in the Republican leadership are fine but you are going to have to clear it with Jim DeMint because he has a standing hold on everything.' So I'm not sure this is a real change from what he has been doing."

NOTHING GETS DONE: Millhiser notes that 30 hours "may not seem like a lot, but when you consider the sheer number of confirmations, bills, and appropriations that the Senate must consider just to keep the country running, the ability to waste 30 hours before any one of these tasks can be accomplished empowers the dissenters to prevent more than a fraction of the Senate's business from ever being completed." Indeed, more than 300 bills that have passed the House, many of them uncontroversial and passed unanimously, have not received a Senate vote. Moreover, as Attorney General Eric Holder noted in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, "23 judicial nominees -- honest and qualified men and women eager to serve the cause of justice -- are enduring long delays while awaiting up-or-down votes, even though 16 of them received unanimous bipartisan approval in the Judiciary Committee." And the vacancies are holding up the justice system as many federal courts do "not have enough judges to promptly or effectively handle the court's caseload." "If we stay on the pace that the Senate has set in the past two years -- the slowest pace of confirmations in history," Holder wrote, "fully half the federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020."

"MINORITY LEADER DEMINT": DeMint has been on a crusade to purify the GOP, actively supporting right-wing tea party candidates for Senate. DeMint's endorsements have often times gone against the candidates his GOP leadership supports. "I'd rather have 40 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters," DeMint said recently, referring to his desire to purge the GOP of moderates. "I hate to offend my colleagues, but the fact is that there is a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," he said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who just lost to DeMint favorite Joe Miller in the state's GOP primary, said of the South Carolina Republican, "I think he has made people uncomfortable. I think that he has kind of rattled the cages, whether it advances to a full-on civil war, I don't know. What I'm looking at right now is what's going on in my state." "I personally think it's very counterproductive," said Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) of DeMint's antics. DeMint has even criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), saying that "the problem in the Republican Party is that the leadership has gone to the left." And if elected, DeMint's new bloc of supporters may pose a leadership challenge against McConnell. DeMint said it is not his "plan" to challenge the current Minority Leader but he reportedly said "he's open to some kind of elected leadership once 10 to 15 new conservatives -- many of them supported by DeMint -- join the ranks as he expects." And while DeMint provokes the GOP and its leadership, McConnell appears to be idly standing by. "I wonder what Minority Leader McConnell thinks about Minority Leader DeMint's unilateral declaration," said a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) of DeMint's "hot-line" announcement, who added, "One thing I know for sure is if their Conference continues to follow the lead of the junior Senator from South Carolina, then the only title that proceeds his name or Sen. McConnell's name will be Minority Leader."

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