‘A Scorched Earth Senate’
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
In respect of the filibuster, Senator Mitch McConnell certainly put the hay down where us mules can get to it. The Republican leader unloaded after a hapless Ben Cardin, senator of Maryland, while talking on Monday with Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, “accidentally” got caught by a hot-mic and, as the New York Post retailed the story, “outed plans to pass an infrastructure bill without Republican votes.”
Mr. McConnell responded today with a prediction of the kind rarely heard in the upper chamber. “Let me say this very clearly, for all 99 of my colleagues,” the Kentuckian rasped. “Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin — to imagine what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like. None of us has even served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent.”
The Republican marked that Senator Chuck Schumer, fewer than four years go, had called the legislative filibuster “the most important distinction between the Senate and the House” and had suggested that without the 60-vote threshold for legislation, the Senate “becomes a majoritarian institution like the House, much more subject to the winds of short-term electoral change. No Senator would like to see that happen.”
Mr. McConnell also mocked Senator Durbin for warning, as recently as 2018, that the so-called “nuclear option” of ending the filibuster “would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers.” Mr. Durbin had said: “We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure.”
Then Mr. McConnell quoted Mr. Durbin as trying to palm off on the good people of Illinois the idea that “the filibuster is not a core principle, but, quote, ‘an offhanded clerical suggestion.’” Mr. McConnell went on to note that Senate Democrats are pressuring the senior Senators from West Virginia and Arizona “to abandon their own very recent commitments to honor this central rule of the Senate.”
“The framers,” Mr. McConnell averred, “designed the Senate to require deliberation… to force cooperation… and to ensure that federal laws in our big, diverse country earn broad enough buy-in to receive the lasting consent of the governed.” He quoted Madison as wanting the Senate to be a “complicated check” against “improper” legislation and Jefferson as warning “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”
Mr. McConnell characterized what the Democrats are seeking as a “radically less stable and less consensus-driven system of government.” He asked whether anyone really believes that “the American people were voting for an entirely new system of government by electing Joe Biden to the White House and a 50-50 Senate.” Quoth he: “Does anyone believe that’s what millions of Americans just thought they were electing?”
The Republican leader asked his colleagues “to imagine a world where every single task requires a physical quorum” (for which, he noted, the veep doesn’t count). “Everything that Democratic Senates did to Presidents Bush and Trump, everything the Republican Senate did to President Obama would be child’s play compared to the disaster that Democrats would create for their own priorities if — if — they break the Senate.”
Most importantly, Mr. McConnell reiterated the warning he made the last time the Democrats were toying with the nuclear option of ending the filibuster. It was that majorities change. The Democrats may want to go for two new states and a packed Supreme Court, he seemed to be saying. How about a GOP Senate passing a national gun permit and pro-life legislation, etc.? The GOP list sounded pretty good to us, we don’t mind saying.
Indeed, the Sun confesses that we’re of two minds about Mr. McConnell’s message. For there’s a Machiavellian streak in every newspaper editor, and if the Senate decides to destroy itself, it would at least be good for circulation. The painful truth, though, is that, while we’re loath to admit it, we’re not so cynical. Mr. McConnell has the better part of this argument, even if it could lead to unity and cut into newspaper circulation.