Even New York Times columnist David Brooks—widely reviled over many years for his “wrongheaded and naive” brand of right-wing commentary—agreed Friday with the many progressive voices arguing that Democrats will ultimately be justified in abolishing the legislative filibuster in the U.S. Senate if Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues his obstructionist ways.
In his latest column—titled the “The Case for Biden Optimism”—Brooks contends that if current efforts to forge a bipartisan power-sharing agreement fail, efforts to pass a comprehensive Covid-19 economic relief package put forth by President Joe Biden are stymied, and “Republicans go into full obstruction mode” then the Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, “should absolutely kill the filibuster.”
While progressives have been making this argument intensely for weeks, if not months, many were caught off guard by Brooks’ endorsement.
“Can’t believe David Brooks and I finally agree on a thing,” said Winnie Wong, former top aide to the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, in response to the column.
“Kill the filibuster. Today. Now,” said former secretary of labor Robert Reich in a tweet directed at Schumer. “Hell, even David Brooks agrees.”
As columnist Ryan Cooper wrote for The Week on Thursday: “[McConnell] is demanding Democrats preserve his ability to block anything they propose with the Senate filibuster, so he can ruin the country and blame it on them, and he is gambling that moderate Democratic senators will be too scared to call his bluff. Democrats should tell McConnell to go pound sand, and nuke the filibuster right now.”
Recall that the filibuster allows just 41 senators to block most legislation. Activists have begged Democrats to get rid of the filibuster after witnessing McConnell use it to shamelessly obstruct Democratic priorities and then immediately remove it as an obstacle to his own chief priority, confirming right-wing Supreme Court Justices. Yet so far a crucial segment of moderate Democratic senators have resisted, for reasons of “tradition,” or worries it will force them to take difficult votes, or simple timidity. Now McConnell has broken yet another Senate norm by threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution unless Democrats agree to keep the legislative filibuster for the next two years. To the best of my knowledge, filibustering the initial organizational rule package in a new Congress has never happened before. (Incidentally, since the Senate will continue to operate under its current rules, that leaves Republicans in charge of the committees so long as it is not passed.)
If Democrats agree, given McConnell’s history, he is virtually guaranteed to not allow any normal legislation through, and to drag out the confirmation of any appointee as long as possible. The only way to pass any law will be through the cumbersome and limited reconciliation process. Just as he did under President [Barack] Obama, McConnell wants to throw sand in the gears of government, prevent Biden from accomplishing anything, blame Democrats for the resulting dysfunction, and take back full control of the Senate in two years.
In response to McConnell’s request to keep the filibuster in place, Schumer on the Senate floor Friday morning said the proposal “is unacceptable, and it won’t be accepted. And the Republican leader knew that when he first proposed it.”
In a statement on Thursday, Mairead Lynn, a spokesperson for the watchdog group Accountable.US, also suggested that Schumer should not tolerate McConnell’s obstruction for one minute longer and called out the Republican leader’s objections to the organizing agreement in the Senate thus far as clearly made in bad faith.
“If McConnell wanted to work with Democrats in good faith,” said Lynn, “he would have spent the last two months moving President Biden’s Cabinet nominees through the confirmation process—a precedent afforded to every previous president.”
McConnell’s “unprecedented” and “outsized” demands that would neutralize Democratic control over the Senate, added Lynn, “are nothing more than a last-ditch effort to further obstruct the Biden administration from implementing the will of the people. Enough is enough: McConnell needs to drop his unreasonable demands and let the Senate get to work.”
On Thursday, Ezra Klein, Brooks’ liberal colleague at the Times, argued that none of the far-reaching bills that Democrats have vowed to pass will be possible in “a Senate in which the filibuster forces 60-vote supermajorities on routine legislation.”
Democrats, wrote Klein, “have plenty of ideas that could improve people’s lives and strengthen democracy. But they have, repeatedly, proved themselves more committed to preserving the status quo of the political system than fulfilling their promises to voters. They have preferred the false peace of decorum to the true progress of democracy. If they choose that path again, they will lose their majority in 2022, and they will deserve it.”
According to Klein, Biden’s “agenda will live or die in the Senate”—and if proper action is not taken, he continued, “odds are it will die, killed by the filibuster.”
This is exactly why progressive critics have urged Democrats to immediately end the charade orchestrated by McConnell.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Ezra Levin, co-founder of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible, said his read on the situation was this: “McConnell wants to block popular bills this Congress—stuff like D.C. statehood and H.R. 1. He doesn’t want to have the filibuster fight with that backdrop, so instead he’s picking the fight on a boring-sounding procedure thing hoping it’s more favorable ground for him.”
“To be clear,” he added: “Senate Dems have no reason or need to give into McConnell’s BS. It would be a colossal mistake of historic proportions for them to give in. And I don’t think they will here.”
In the wake of an authoritarian president and a bloody attack on our Capitol, we can either pass reforms to safeguard our democracy or we can keep an accidental 19th century procedural loophole. https://t.co/YJnSEuqdM1
— Ezra Levin (@ezralevin) January 21, 2021
And as Levin put it on Friday in a tweet linking to Brooks’ column: “Killing the Jim Crow filibuster is the institutionalist, pro-democracy position.”