If Mitch McConnell deserves credit for anything at all (aside from his lifetime of work making this country an unambiguously miserable place) it’s for his limitless capacity to look at the most arcane, dysfunctional, pompously self-absorbed institution in American history — the United States Senate — and say “sure, this is bad, but I bet I could make it so much worse.” It’s a skill. A gift, really, and it’s one which McConnell seems eager not to let go to waste, as he once again this week threatened to go “scorched earth” if Democrats do the one thing that might actually return a sense of usefulness to the nation’s vaunted Upper Chamber.
Here’s McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, threatening doom and gloom and — worst of all — dysfunction, should congressional Democrats abolish the filibuster, and, y’know, start passing laws that might actually help people. Quelle horreur!!
“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like,” McConnell droned in his characteristic monotone.
“None of us have served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent,” he continued. “This is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn the lights on before noon, to proceed with a garden-variety floor speech, to dispense with the reading of lengthy legislative text, to schedule committee business, to move even noncontroversial nominees at anything besides a snail’s pace.”
To abolish the filibuster — the means by which McConnell and his Republican cronies have kept the Senate in a virtual standstill, save for instances of uncharacteristic Democratic ingenuity (rare) and moments of embarrassing pablum (depressingly common) — would so offend and injure McConnell’s love for the institution he just so happens to have warped into his personal fiefdom that he’d like the world to believe that’d he’d simply burn the whole damn thing to the ground if it came to that. Bullshit.
While I have no doubt that McConnell would enjoy making things as difficult as possible for Democrats should they abolish the filibuster, let’s really consider what he’s threatening here: bringing the normal business of the Senate to a virtual standstill? Buddy, look around! Democrats hold both branches of Congress and the White House, and still the only way they’ve managed to get anything significant done is through a parliamentary loophole that keeps McConnell from blowing up their spot. His promise that a scorched-earth Senate would be “more like a 100-car pileup” with “nothing moving” only feels like a threat if you think the current state of legislative affairs is akin to some sort of political autobahn, with bills zipping along at breakneck speed toward passage. And if you really think that’s what’s happening now, then you’ve got bigger problems than Mitch McConnell’s dour, jowly predictions.
In any case, McConnell continued:
Then there’s the small matter that majorities are actually never permanent. The last time a democrat leader was trying to start a nuclear exchange, I remember offering a warning. I said, my colleagues would regret it a lot sooner than they thought. In just a few years and a few Supreme Court vacancies later, many of our Democratic colleagues said publicly that they did. Touching the hot stove again would yield the same result, but even more dramatic. As senate Republicans wind up back in the saddle, we wouldn’t just erase every liberal change that hurt the country, we’d strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero — zero — input from the other side.
Again, McConnell’s threat only has teeth if you think he would actually seek input from Democrats on “all kinds of conservative policies” in the first place. Of course he wouldn’t! This is Charlie Brown and the football shit, only his retributive promise makes even less sense when you consider that:
1) It’s contingent on Republicans not only taking back the Senate, but the House and the White House, too. Which, okay, that’s an absolutely plausible scenario at some point — maybe sooner than later — but…
2) In the meantime, Democrats would suddenly be able to move ahead unencumbered with the voting rights packages they already have in the chamber — one that could counteract the GOP’s various voter suppression measures, gerrymandering projects, and other projects intended to game the system to produce permanent conservative minority rule.
For Republicans to “wind up back in the saddle” in a post-filibuster world, they would likely have to do so based less on electoral manipulation, and more on actually winning races on their own merits. That, as many Republicans accidentally admitted, is something the GOP is not so great at.
So not only is McConnell threatening to take an already broken institution and make it even broken-er (“ah AH! Let’s add 50 more cars to this 50-car pile-up! That’ll show ’em!”) but his warning of retribution and vengeance rings even more hollow when you consider what might happen if he doesn’t get his way in the first place. Not that McConnell doesn’t already know all this. But he’s counting on scaring enough Democrats into maintaining the abysmal status quo so that his bluff can go uncalled. That way he can keep running the Senate as he sees fit, regardless of whether Republicans are in the majority or minority. And, for now at least, he might just get his way.
If there’s a single legislative tool standing between the United States Senate and actually passing some laws that could be of genuine benefit to the country, it’s the filibuster. If there’s a second legislative tool standing between the United States Senate and actually passing some laws that could be of genuine benefit to the country, it’s Mitch McConnell.