Are Democrats On The Verge of a Major Political Miscalculation?
In perhaps the most predictable and yet hysterical reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, President Joe Biden decided to announce his opposition to the filibuster, at least in cases involving abortion or pretty much whatever.
Leaving aside the very real problem of a president attacking the legitimacy of the Supreme Court while on foreign soil, Biden’s announced preference on the filibuster is almost certainly contrary to the interests of his own party.
Senate rules exist to protect the institution and individual senators, not voters. The filibuster is no exception. Senate Rule 22, which essentially requires 60 votes for the Senate to proceed to any legislation, allows senators to elude difficult votes. This has been true for both sides across a range of issues. It is most helpful in those instances where a Senator is at cross-purposes with voters.
That is why it has survived all these years.
Choosing this moment to change that is uniquely poor timing, given that the Republicans are likely to preside over the Senate next Congress.
It is also a bad idea for Democrats because Republicans have a bit of a built-in political and demographic advantage with respect to the filibuster and the Senate more generally.
Right now, there are three Democratic senators – Jon Tester, Sherrod Brown, Joe Manchin — who represent states that are, by pretty much any definition, Republican. There is only one Republican – Susan Collins – who represents a definitively Democratic state.
There are six Democratic senators — Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, Mark Kelly, Kirsten Sinema, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan — from states where the governor and the state legislature are completely controlled by Republicans and which Republican presidential nominees have either won or been within a few thousand votes of winning for a number of cycles.
These nine Democratic senators from soft pink to bright red states is a pretty good list of those who have or will have challenging re-election campaigns. Without the filibuster to help them hide from difficult votes, all of them would have had to get on the record on legislation like the Equality Act, immigration reform, or higher energy and other taxes.
Finally, there are four senators, two Republicans (Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey) and two Democrats (Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow) from swing states. At the moment, all three states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures and each of them voted for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and then-candidate Joe Biden in 2020.
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have governors and senators in cycle this year, so we will learn more shortly.
All of that is ultimately — though perhaps not immediately — good for the Republicans. For example, the destruction of the judicial filibuster has turned out to be a definitive advantage for the Republicans, despite the initially bleak prospects.
When differences between the parties are defined and obvious, Republicans tend to do better. The 60-vote threshold blurs the distinctions by helping senators avoid defining votes when they perceive that such votes might hurt them.
The good news for Republicans is that elected officials can be short-sighted, so the chances are pretty good that eventually Biden and the Democrats will surrender to their left-wing and get rid of the filibuster. The resulting legislative regime will be characterized by lots of votes on amendments and competing legislative approaches from all sorts of directions.
That bodes well for voters.
The legislative process should be complicated and difficult, and when voters have an unobstructed line of sight into what their elected representatives say and how they vote, the democratic process tends to work better.
Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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