The days of the Senate filibuster may be numbered—at least nomination filibusters. I say this because Jonathan Bernstein seems to have given up on saving the filibuster. He knows more about the filibuster than anyone I read. And for the last couple of years, he’s always claimed that not only is the filibuster a good thing, but that it wasn’t going anywhere. He always thought that the two sides would work out their differences. But he concluded his article today, “I’m not as optimistic as I was last time that they’re going to strike a deal.”
More than predictions, however, Bernstein doesn’t seem to think that the Democrats have any choice but to destroy the filibuster. The whole article is a response to those who are wondering what the Democrats are thinking in all of this. According to him that’s clear, “It seems to me that Democrats will have little choice but to threaten majority-imposed rules change and, if necessary, carry out that threat.” Given this, why are the Republicans acting in such a way as to force a response?
He offers four theories, but I don’t find them particularly compelling. For example, he claims that some Republicans may actually want the filibuster destroyed but they don’t want to have to take the political hit by doing it later themselves. I don’t see that. For one thing, “What political hit?!” In 2005, even though filibuster use was actually down from where the Republicans had driven it, they claimed that the filibuster was “unprecedented.” What’s more, I don’t see the Republicans particularly concerned about what people say when they are in power. You see: I lived through the Bush Jr years.
The one theory I most believe is that the Republicans just don’t think the Democrats will do anything. And it isn’t at all clear that they are wrong. There are still Democrats in the Senate who somehow think they that they can maintain this antiquated and anti-democratic institution. My Senator Diane Feinstein continues to be appalled by the behavior of the Republicans, remarking two weeks ago, “The judiciary is too important to play partisan games with. And that’s exactly what’s going on here.” But when it comes down to it, she demurs.
But above all, I don’t think the Republicans are thinking anything at all. They are just playing with the power that they have, figuring that they can always work out a last minute deal with the Democrats. But Bernstein may be right that it is different this time. I saw Harry Reid as angry as I have ever seen him during the last battle. And this time it is so much worse. The Republican use of the filibuster reminds me very much of high school jocks picking on nerds. They do it because they can and because it is in their natures to be dicks. Why are the Republicans filibustering? Because that’s what they do. And if it brings an end to the terrible practice, that’s just great.
Bernstein is a hardheaded political scientist, but on this issue, he has been something of a Pollyanna. Rather than saying the filibuster is just flawed, he’s hoped that the Republicans would come to behave properly. But as I showed in January, over the past 50 years, Republicans Caused All Filibuster Abuse. Their nature is to push whatever political advantage they have. The Democrats seem to behave in accordance with norms. Republicans always try to expand them. That isn’t going to change.