The Furshlugginer Filibuster
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.
Ahead of President Biden’s speech at Atlanta on rewriting election laws, Democrats are demanding progress in Congress. With legislation stalled, Mr. Biden has warmed to Senator Schumer’s push to eliminate the filibuster, which has sparked a war of words with Senator McConnell — and the sages of the Wall Street Journal. The jousting underscores both the weakness and hypocrisy of the Democrats’ position. Have they forgotten how tampering with the filibuster has backfired?
The dispute begins with Mr. Schumer’s announcement that he would force a vote on the filibuster’s future no later than Martin Luther King day. The Journal called that a “stunt,” noting that opposition by Senators Manchin and Sinema puts Mr. Schumer’s scheme in doubt. Mr. Schumer’s aim is “not to protect democracy but to blow up Senate rules for partisan gain,” the Journal jousts, adding that the Empire State Eminence seeks “to instill a sense of panic.”
The panic seems to be inside Mr. Biden’s camarilla, with advocates of so-called voting reform “clamoring,” as NBC puts it, “to hear a viable plan to get major legislation to the president’s desk to combat restrictive voting laws” in Republican states. “There’s nothing more urgent,” says the president of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson. “We need to see outcomes.” Mr. Schumer says Democrats need to rewrite America’s election laws “to repair our republic” and prevent a reprise of January 6.
The Journal decries equating the January 6 protestors and “Republicans who favor existing application of the Voting Rights Act.” They deem it a faulty analogy on a par with likening “criminal-justice progressives” and rioters attacking “police and property at Black Lives Matter protests.” The Journal highlighted the partisan nature of the Democrats’ election bill, which, under the guise of reform, would push “racial gerrymandering” and force states to accept mailed ballots after Election Day.
Mr. Schumer in turn dashes off a note to the Journal lamenting that, in the aftermath of President Trump’s “Big Lie” over the 2020 election, “the Republican Party has radicalized against democracy.” Efforts by states to boost voting integrity by tightening mail-in ballot and voter ID policies reflect, in Mr. Schumer’s view, the “antidemocratic poison of last year’s deadly insurrection.” Such measures “urgently require the Senate to pass legislation.” Yet there’s the furshlugginer filibuster.
Mr. Schumer taunts Republicans for refusing “even to debate voter protection bills.” Mr. McConnell warns he’s “trying to break the Senate” and vows to force votes on controversies like vaccine mandates. Mr. Schumer also accuses the Journal’s editors of inconsistency. How can they square their defense of the filibuster, he demanded, with supporting “Republicans when they jammed through three Supreme Court justices and massive tax giveaways for corporations on a 50-vote threshold”?
“That’s easy,” the Journal’s editors reply, noting that Mr. Trump’s tax bill succeeded in the Senate via the reconciliation process, “a longstanding exception to the filibuster that both parties have used often.” They remind Mr. Schumer that reconciliation “lets the majority use the 51-vote threshold for budget-related items.” Yet “Mr. Schumer is pulling a fast one,” they say, for balking at Republicans confirming Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court justices by a mere majority.
The Journal points to the difference between the legislative filibuster, “which no party has broken to date,” and “the filibuster for nominees, which Mr. Schumer and his fellow Democrats broke in 2013.” Harry Reid et al were deluded to think they were only ending the “filibuster for lower-court nominees, not for the Supreme Court,” the Journal cautioned then, predicting “two or three more Clarence Thomases on the High Court confirmed with 51 Senate votes.”
The irony ahead of Mr. Biden’s speech in Atlanta is that the filibuster is a feature of the Senate calculated to do what Mr. Biden made a central promise of his campaign — unify the country. Mr. Schumer himself warned, back in 2005, that ditching the filibuster would “make this country into a banana republic, where if you don’t get your way, you change the rules.” Changing the rules of the Senate is bad enough. Changing the states’ election laws to permanently tilt the scales is even worse.
Image: REUTERS/Gabrielle Crockett