It’s hard not to see the Senate rule change Thursday as too little, too late. Liberals wanted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to push to end the filibuster at the start of this Senate session, but he at least twice relied on a handshake deal with Mitch McConnell that Republicans would stop their unprecedented obstruction campaign against President Obama’s nominees.
Of course, “everybody” knew how that would turn out, but “everybody" doesn’t sit in the Senate; it wasn’t until recently that tragically cautious Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Max Baucus came around. (Even Vice President Joe Biden has been wary of the so-called nuclear option; he gave it the go-ahead today over lunch, knowing that he wouldn’t be needed to break a tie in the Senate.)
Now, on the heels of Reid holding his fractious and often cowardly caucus together last month, to stop the GOP’s government shutdown and debt-ceiling hostage taking, it looks like Democrats are finally learning that appeasing bullies only enables them.
Listening to McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley rail against the Democrats’ power grab in the Senate on Thursday, you almost had to admire their chutzpah and capacity for projection – and their trust that the media would let them get away with it. Grassley really has himself to blame: By crusading against Obama’s right to fill vacancies in the crucial but conservative-dominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, brazenly calling it “court-packing,” he finally convinced moderate Democrats that they were dealing with unreasonable power-mad adversaries.
McConnell, who backed Grassley, continued to mock Democrats' demand that Obama be allowed to do his job. "They cook up some fake fight over judges that aren't even needed,” he chuckled on the Senate floor. He thrilled himself by making a little joke: Senate Democrats had said “if you like your Senate rules you can keep them.” After the vote, he blasted them for a “power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda.”
As Obama reminded the nation in his remarks after the vote, four of six Bush nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court were confirmed; four of five of his nominees have been blocked. The president who started his first term preaching bipartisanship, sometimes criticizing “Congress” or “Washington” but never using the R-word, has, like cautious Senate Democrats, finally realized the nature of the Republican enemy he confronts. “This year alone, for the first time in history, Senate Republicans filibustered a president's nominee for the secretary of defense -- who used to be a former Republican senator,” he said Thursday.
Obama called his opponents “reckless” and blasted their “unprecedented pattern of obstruction.” And he finally copped to the strategy at the heart of the GOP’s game: to block action by the Democrats who won the last election and demoralize their base by making it look like voting makes no difference. “The American people deserve better than politicians who run for election telling them how terrible government is, and then devoting their time in elected office to trying to make government not work as often as possible,” he said.
Belatedly, it looks like voting makes a difference. Democrats are supposed to be nervous today that if they lose the White House and the Senate, Mitch McConnell will be helping President Ted Cruz ram anti-choice plutocrats past a Democratic minority. That’s a silly concern. For one thing, the Democratic minority never used its power to block judicial and executive nominees the way Republicans have. And for another, Republicans aren’t likely to take back the White House given their demographic troubles.
A deluded McConnell is nonetheless warning Democrats that they’ll face turnabout when he’s majority leader. Dream on, Mitch. McConnell is more likely to lose his own seat in 2014 than to become majority leader. I’ve criticized Harry Reid before, but he deserves a lot of credit today. Still, he got an assist from the likes of McConnell and Grassley, so they deserve progressives’ thanks, too.