Filibuster! Joe Biden Don't Even Know Her!
The Senate filibuster is a source of great debate among Democrats. Our girl Elizabeth Warren is all "fuck the filibuster," because she has a brain in her head, plans on her website, and no interest in continuing a parliamentary procedure whose "noble" legacy includes attempts to block civil rights legislation.
Unfortunately, other Democrats running for president are protective of the filibuster because they're chumps. Sen. Cory Booker has said he would "personally resist efforts" to dump the filibuster. This past February, Booker proclaimed, "We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster. It's one of the distinguishing factors of this body." Ted Cruz is also a distinguishing feature of the Senate, but that's not a good excuse for keeping either around.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand lamented how Republicans nuked the filibuster for judicial appointments and rammed through a series of right-wing hacks. She's right that the filibuster would've kept both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court, but you know what else would've worked? Electing Hillary Clinton. But if Hillary had managed to beat Putin's puppet, she would've had the same troubles as Barack Obama. Senate Republicans were in the minority but relentlessly obstructed Obama for the first six years of his presidency. (Also the last two, but they weren't in the minority then. We guess.)
Without the filibuster, Obama could've passed the Affordable Care Act without needing to pacify centrist Democrats, letting Joe Lieberman personally pull the plug on the public option. When Scott Brown won an upset victory over technically alive Martha Coakley to replace the late Ted Kennedy, there was talk of giving up on health care reform all together. Fortunately, Nancy Pelosi wasn't having it. Democrats still had 59 votes in the Senate, which is more than they'll ever have again until the planned gay invasion of Wyoming, but they cowered in fear of the damn filibuster.
Senate Republicans battered Obama with the filibuster. They screwed the stimulus and danced on the grave of meaningful legislation to address climate change and immigration. Democrats looove them some Obama now but they mostly stayed home in 2010 because they'd lost hope for significant change.
Democrats suddenly remembered that they controlled the Senate and nuked the filibuster in 2013 after Republicans kept blocking Obama's most routine and uncontroversial appointments. GOP hypocrites blame Harry Reid for the blow to beloved Senate norms, but only a fool believes Mitch McConnell wouldn't have nuked the filibuster regardless once he became majority leader.
The question now is whether Democrats would restore the filibuster to its former obstructive glory if they won back the Senate. Or more to the point: Are Democrats dumb enough to hand Senate Republicans a loaded gun, which they'll use without hesitation against the next Democratic president's agenda?
Elizabeth Warren isn't dumb. She laid down the law at the National Action Network Conference in April.
WARREN: When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: We're done with two sets of rules -- one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats. And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.
She also lynch-shamed the filibuster in the same speech, describing how an anti-lynching bill passed the House but kept suffering death by filibuster in the Senate. There are no compelling counter examples of a real-life Jimmy Stewart filibustering for any objectively positive goal.
Democratic candidates Jay Inslee and Pete Buttigieg support getting rid of the filibuster, but Sen. Bernie Sanders has said he's not "crazy" about the idea. What's crazy is running for president with Sanders's platform and expecting anything to pass if you need 60 votes. But Bernie ain't 'fraid of no filibuster.
SANDERS: I do think that every piece of legislation that I am fighting for can be passed with good legislative processes, including budget reconciliation.
Sanders is referring to some hocus-pocus where his vice president -- probably Tulsi Gabbard -- would just decree that his legislation is filibuster-proof and can pass through a simple majority in budget reconciliation. This is a needlessly complicated way of ending the filibuster, but we guess Vice President Gabbard would feel important.
SANDERS: The problem, though, that I believe, is whether you're in the majority or the minority, I think you have to protect minority rights. I don't think you can just simply shove everything through.
The myth of the Senate is that it's this "deliberative body" that protects us from the tyranny of one person, one vote. The reality is the Senate enables white minority rule like a common apartheid South Africa. Smaller and whiter states have just as many senators as larger, more diverse states. The current Senate majority represents a minority of voters. Democrats are the ones who win the most votes but lose the presidency. It's not "shoving everything through" to pass legislation with a Democratic majority. It's naive to expect a single Republican to support a progressive bill. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Meghan McCain's father are praised for helping block ACA repeal in 2017, but they voted against the ACA in the first place. That's typical Republican behavior. If Democrats are serious about the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, they should get over any illusions of bipartisan support. They also shouldn't worry about what Republicans would do once they regain the majority. Republicans failed to repeal the ACA and they only needed 50 votes. It's harder for Republicans to take away what Democrats deliver for Americans than it is for them to just lie about death panels and cow extinction. It is far better for progressivism to bury the filibuster.
This brings us to Uncle Joe Biden. He loves the Senate of old white guys in smoke-filled rooms. He supports its traditions and thinks ending the filibuster "is a very dangerous move." We know he's forgetful, but his staff should remind him that the filibuster is all but dead, so he shouldn't talk about bringing back a tool that would only make his presidency more difficult. If he wants to run for Senate again and serve in the minority, this argument might make sense. But he's running for president and presidents in theory like to accomplish things. The filibuster is not the ally of achievement. Republicans kicked it to the curb to pack the courts, and Democrats should let it lie there so we can accomplish ambitious goals like acknowledging science exists.
Biden however is confident that he can make the country better through the power of a white man's handshake. Yes, he's going to make grand bargains with Mitch McConnell, who won Olympic gold medals for pissing in Obama's face. The only Republican Biden's got a problem with is the one who coincidentally holds the office he wants.
BIDEN: Some of these people are saying, "Biden just doesn't get it. You can't work with Republicans anymore. That's not the way it works anymore." Well, folks, I'm going to say something outrageous. I know how to make government work — not because I've talked or tweeted about it, but because I've done it. I've worked across the aisle to reach consensus.
There is not a single productive progressive goal that Republicans won't do everything in their power to block. If Democrats aren't prepared to take them out of the equation, they aren't prepared to lead. A Democrat just holding the seat warm in the Oval Office is better than our current situation, but not by much. It is too much to want a little more? We don't think so. Fuck the filibuster.
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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."