Filibuster? Joe Manchin Doesn’t Even Know Her.
Senate Democrats managed to pass an epic $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill without a single Republican vote, but they can't use reconciliation for everything. Most legislation will require at least 10 Republicans votes to overcome the filibuster, or "Democrat Face Puncher 9000." Democrats will never find that level of support for immigration reform and protections for LGBTQ+ Americans. Stop Republicans From Cheating bills are especially unpopular among Republicans.
Current King of the Senate Joe Manchin has repeatedly expressed his undying devotion for the filibuster, which he naively claims gives the minority "input into the process in the Senate." In reality, it provides Republicans a permanent veto over the Democratic agenda. It's their Senate Majority Participation Trophy. For a brief shining moment, it seemed as if Manchin was willing to entertain reforms to the filibuster process that Mitch McConnell has so flagrantly abused.
During his marathon Sunday talk show appearances, Manchin suggested that the Senate could make the filibuster a "little bit more painful" and require that senators actually stand on the floor and talk until they drop. Ted Cruz would love this. The “talking filibuster" recalls images of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but Stewart's Senator Smith was filibustering an appropriations bill and defending his reputation. He wasn't trying to block civil rights legislation. That's how the "Jim Crow relic," as Barack Obama called it, was used in reality, which is unfortunately not a Frank Capra movie.
Slate noted that Manchin wouldn't mind making the filibuster more of a hassle for obstructionists, who are exclusively Republicans.
The senator has now said that on top of requiring the minority to actually talk during a filibuster, he'd be open to requiring that they keep 41 votes on the floor in order to maintain their blockade. No matter what, that would be a massive time suck for opposition lawmakers, which would make filibustering more logistically difficult. But once you've made the rule change, it also opens up the potential for old-timey hardball tactics like running the Senate 24/7 until the opposing side just drops.
That's more impressive hardball, but on the other hand, Republicans would love to waste Democrats' time and delay passage of bills until their next shot at the Senate majority in 2022. They don't have anything better to do since there's no Republican president sending over unqualified rightwing hack judges.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said the Democratic caucus is “fed up" with McConnell consistently eating their lunch, but Durbin believes it's only fair to let the rattlesnake bite him a few more times and confirm that it's poisonous. Democrats are expected to “test" Republicans with votes on otherwise inoffensive matters before pursuing any big changes. Durbin said, “We need some floor experience first." He has served in a McConnell-infected Senate since 1997.
Oh, I guess we should talk about Kyrsten Sinema, who's also a fierce defender of the Democrat Face Puncher 9000. She loves it more than a living wage for working people! She'd even “prefer to overwrite previous filibuster changes to reinstate the 60-vote requirement for nominations that Democrats first eased in 2013 and Republicans removed for Supreme Court picks in 2017." For those of you who weren't born within the past 24 hours, that's an incredibly stupid idea. It's like Sinema's one of the cluelessly naive administrators in The Good Place who can't comprehend evil.
Meanwhile, Manchin remains stubbornly obsessed with “bipartisanship" and doesn't support using reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bill. (On a somewhat happier note, he also wants to roll back the Tax Cuts for Rich Fuckwads to pay for it — happier because that shit needs repealed, less happier because it falls into the "pay for" trap and also good luck finding 10 Republicans for "make the rich pay their taxes again.")
I haven't seen an effort by our leadership to go sit down and work with [Republicans]. No one's making any effort at all. They just assume it's going to be holy warfare.
That's because most Democrats have been conscious for the past 12 years. McConnell's memoir might as well be titled Holy Warfare. McConnell believes that total obstruction of Democratic goals is the best way for Republicans to make gains (especially since their actual policies suck). According to University of Texas legal scholar Sanford Levinson, McConnell developed this “strategy" after observing how Democratic support for No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit helped re-elect George W. Bush in 2004.
Republicans aren't going to work with Democrats, now or ever. The question is whether Senate traditionalists like Manchin will prioritize helping Americans over making nice with Republicans.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."