Posts Tagged ‘Gail Collins’

Rand Paul Shows What A Filibuster Should Look Like

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Last week, Rand Paul caught the imagination of people who pay attention to politics and in the process did himself some good on the Senate floor. Paul staged a 12 hour filibuster to protest the Obama Administration’s vacillation when asked whether drones could be used to attack American citizens in the United States.

I’m not overly concerned that drones are going to be dropped on my local coffee shop, but I did think that it was offensive that Obama’s team bobbed and weaved when asked about it. As Charles Pierce put it:

The question of whether or not the president can drop a couple of hellfires on an apartment block in Cincinnati, or a farmhouse outside Salinas, or a fucking brownstone in Brooklyn is a yes-or-no question. And, if your answer is “yes,” you need to explain yourself at considerable length.

But it wasn’t so much the issue as it was somebody finally having their Howard Beale moment on the national stage. Ironically, in addition to providing a badly needed shot in the arm to a demoralized Republican party, it also highlighted how broken the system is by showing what a filibuster used to look like, as well as what it should be. Paul’s 12 hour Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style soliloquy was a throwback to the days when people actually used to filibuster, not just declare their intent to filibuster and watch the other side fold.

This contrast wasn’t lost on liberals. As Gail Collins pointed out, you didn’t have to read your history to see the contrast. It was on display that very day in the US Senate.

Compare Paul’s behavior to that of Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. Earlier in the day, McConnell had staged a filibuster under the usual system: He blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the D.C. circuit court by filing a piece of paper.

Halligan’s nomination has been moldering for two years now. Her fate is an excellent example of everything people hate about the way Washington works. She’s completely qualified, a former solicitor general for New York State. Nobody questions her character. But she cannot get an up-or-down vote. McConnell’s opposition is partly partisan (the Republicans want to keep majority control of the powerful D.C. circuit) and partly a bow to the National Rifle Association, which has recently gotten into the business of vetting major judicial nominations.

Would any Republican have spent a night fending off hunger, thirst and the need for bathroom breaks to stop Halligan’s nomination? We’ll never know. All McConnell had to do was just say no. Harry Reid, the majority leader, needed 60 votes to proceed. End of story. End of Halligan.

Since Obama was elected, the Republicans have basically changed the rules of engagement that the Senate lived by, now making even the most basic questions subject to a 60 vote majority. To see how dramatic this change has been, take a look at this chart.

One of the most tepid filibuster reform proposals in the US Senate this year was to actually force people to do what Paul did last week if they want to stop majority rule. Amazingly and inexplicably, Harry Reid made caving on this principle as one of his first actions in this new term.

This is just outrageous. Even if you support the filibuster, shouldn’t it be a requirement that you actually filibuster, not just declare your intention to?