McConnell's filibuster threats are already backfiring

McConnell's filibuster threats are already backfiring
Image via Screengrab.

During the Trump years, there was an excessive amount of hand-wringing over the fact that he and his administration were exploding all the "norms" that had previously held our government institutions together. His insulting behavior and crude lack of decorum woke up many a pundit to the idea that much of our system was dependent upon a good faith adherence to the spirit of democracy as much as any formal rules, regulations and laws. He came to Washington without any serious understanding of how government worked and he didn't care when it was pointed out to him. Many were left shocked at how feeble our institutions had turned out to be in the face of someone who had no respect for them.

But let's not kid ourselves. Those norms had always only been as strong as the people who were charged with upholding them and those agreements were unraveling long before Trump entered politics. So we should have seen it coming.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had been making a mockery of Senate norms for years as Majority Leader and he had made it quite clear those old-fashioned notions were no longer operative. There was a time when elected officials would express their support for a new president of the opposite party, wishing them success for the good of the country. McConnell broke that norm during Barack Obama's first term when he openly admitted that he considered it his top priority to deny Obama a second term. He didn't believe it was in his interest to accommodate or negotiate in good faith and instead began a campaign of total obstruction so that the president and his administration would fail and the Republicans would take back the White House.

While this sort of scorched-earth tactic wasn't unprecedented, it was unusual for a national political leader to flaunt his intentions so boldly. There used to be a penalty for being so openly ungracious but McConnell found that it didn't hurt him so he kept right on going, purposefully paralyzing the Obama administration, making it obvious that democratic norms were no longer functional. And left unable to confirm any members of the judiciary under McConnell's obstructive tactics, the Democrats had to eliminate the filibuster norm for everything but nominees to the Supreme Court. After he won the majority, McConnell brazenly blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama's choice for the high court, for months only to scrap the filibuster for the Supreme Court as well once Donald Trump won the White House and nominated a Republican to the seat. McConnell's excuse, which he made up out of whole cloth, was that in an election year the seat should stay empty because it should be up to the people to decide which president should choose the new justice.

It was an unprecedented abuse of Senate norms, signaling that McConnell had decided that anything goes. He used every trick in the book to keep Democrats from bringing any bills to the floor. He ignored all legislation that came from the House. And he spent virtually every minute confirming massive numbers of unqualified conservative judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. And when he was asked what he would do if a seat on the high court became vacant during the upcoming presidential election in 2020, he took a long drink of water and smugly said, "Oh, we'd fill it."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had been making a mockery of Senate norms for years as Majority Leader and he had made it quite clear those old-fashioned notions were no longer operative. There was a time when elected officials would express their support for a new president of the opposite party, wishing them success for the good of the country. McConnell broke that norm during Barack Obama's first term when he openly admitted that he considered it his top priority to deny Obama a second term. He didn't believe it was in his interest to accommodate or negotiate in good faith and instead began a campaign of total obstruction so that the president and his administration would fail and the Republicans would take back the White House.

While this sort of scorched-earth tactic wasn't unprecedented, it was unusual for a national political leader to flaunt his intentions so boldly. There used to be a penalty for being so openly ungracious but McConnell found that it didn't hurt him so he kept right on going, purposefully paralyzing the Obama administration, making it obvious that democratic norms were no longer functional. And left unable to confirm any members of the judiciary under McConnell's obstructive tactics, the Democrats had to eliminate the filibuster norm for everything but nominees to the Supreme Court. After he won the majority, McConnell brazenly blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama's choice for the high court, for months only to scrap the filibuster for the Supreme Court as well once Donald Trump won the White House and nominated a Republican to the seat. McConnell's excuse, which he made up out of whole cloth, was that in an election year the seat should stay empty because it should be up to the people to decide which president should choose the new justice.

It was an unprecedented abuse of Senate norms, signaling that McConnell had decided that anything goes. He used every trick in the book to keep Democrats from bringing any bills to the floor. He ignored all legislation that came from the House. And he spent virtually every minute confirming massive numbers of unqualified conservative judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. And when he was asked what he would do if a seat on the high court became vacant during the upcoming presidential election in 2020, he took a long drink of water and smugly said, "Oh, we'd fill it."


Mitch McConnell is not pleased.

On Tuesday, he angrily declared that if the Democrats were to change the rules as he routinely does when he is in charge, the Republicans would respond by defunding Planned Parenthood and loosening gun restrictions as soon as they get the majority, which he will do in any case if it pleases him.


Working himself up into a froth, McConnell warned that if the Democrats were to do this, there would be a "100-car pileup" and "nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like." He threatened the Democrats with delaying tactics saying, "I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum, which, by the way, the Vice President does not count in determining a quorum."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Il, remained unfazed by the threat, however, pointing out that McConnell "has already done that. He's proven he can do it and they'll do it again, I assume."

McConnell's extreme politicization of Senate norms, grinding the Obama administration to a halt and then confirming hundreds of extremist judges, including three onto the Supreme Court, demonstrated that he has absolutely no respect for democratic norms. He didn't try to hide it. And that was his big mistake. By being so smug and so flamboyant in wielding his power (remember "we'll fill it"?) he finally managed to get the Democrats to understand that they have nothing to lose by going around him to enact their agenda and letting the people decide if they like the results. If it works out they, will be re-elected. If not, they did their best. That's democracy, after all, the most important norm of all.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.