Democrats in Congress are currently working their way through a set of mind-numbing and depressing standoffs around their big social spending bill. It’s a process that has highlighted lots of fun stuff, like the crooked nihilism of right-wing Democrats hellbent on tanking the legislation, and the party’s constant inability to actually do anything good for people. But it’s also been a great lesson in how unbelievably stupid and pointless so much of our political system really is.
Consider, for instance, the Senate parliamentarian. This is a person who usually sits around the Senate determining whether different senators are following the Senate rulebook, but the parliamentarian’s biggest time to shine is when they have to rule on legislative matters. That’s what led to the current parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, demanding this past weekend that Democrats remove provisions around immigration from their spending bill. She did this because, in her very subjective judgment, they violated the Byrd Rule, which is a rule the Senate made up a few years ago for spending bills going through the reconciliation process, which this bill is going through because Democrats are really invested in never getting rid of the filibuster, because they love having dumb rules that hem them in and thus give them an easy way to evade actually doing stuff! Case in point: Democrats literally do not have to follow MacDonough’s non-binding orders, but they are following them anyway, because…they’re Senate Democrats!
This is all stupid enough, but it gets even stupider, because, as the Intercept reported on Wednesday, MacDonough—who was previously seen telling Democrats they weren’t allowed to raise the minimum wage—is a huge freak. The site unearthed a commencement speech MacDonough gave back in 2018 and, uh, what is going on here (emphasis mine):
MacDonough said in her commencement speech that while her nominal job was to assist the elected senators in the body, she felt her true allegiance was to the institution of the Senate, which is cloaked in a heavily contested mythology. “I represent the interests of my unseen client, the institution of the Senate itself. While serving its hundred members on a day-to-day basis, I still represent the Senate,” she said.
“It was the protection of the Senate’s rules and precedents that brought me into conflict with the Senate majority back in 2013 when talk of overturning the Senate’s cloture rule for nominations by what is called ‘the nuclear option’ was revived,” she continued, referring to the parliamentary procedure that lets the Senate override a standing rule by simple majority. “It was my duty to advocate for preservation of that rule and in doing so, I worked with all the gangs.”
I will just say it, this is not normal human speech. “The Senate” is not an “unseen client,” it is….not anything. You can’t see it because it is a construct, not a being. Also, what is MacDonough doing fighting with senators about changing their own rules???
So now eight million undocumented people won’t be able to get a green card because one person says so, and that one person happens to have the same relationship to the Senate as Tom Cruise does to Scientology. When people look back on this period they will definitely understand why things happened this way.