A Measured Blow to the Tyranny of King Phil

As the Daylight Video indicated, I was rooting for the invocation of the “nuclear option” by Senate Democrats today, which would have implemented a long-delayed and much-needed effort to rein in massive abuses of an inherently anti-democratic legislative device, the filibuster.

A last-minute deal apparently brokered in part by John McCain called off the countdown. While I’m disappointed, I can’t say I can find much fault with Harry Reid. He didn’t give up much in exchange for up-or-down votes on seven pending presidential nominations: the symbolic gesture of accepting Republican objections to two recess appointments to the NLRB (an issue now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court), which will now have to be replaced (but will then be subject to the majority-vote agreement). Most of all, Reid didn’t make any promises to forego revival of the nuclear option if Republicans filibuster future nominations, or otherwise abuse the procedure.

What we don’t know is exactly how much leverage Reid carried into these negotiations. Had he rejected a deal that gave him more or less what he publicly asked for, would he have carried his caucus along with him? Maybe, maybe not. But the key thing is that unlike the last time Reid cut a deal on the filibuster, he didn’t give the appearance of privately sympathizing more with the opposition than with the home team.

I’m sure many Beltway folk will want to heap praise on McCain and treat his “intervention” as in effect another bipartisan “gang” designed to overcome the partisan passions of Washington, etc., etc. But what really happened here was summarized by Dave Weigel as “victory for Democrats and face-saving for Republicans.” Because it’s not being advertised as some sort of deal to end all deals–or reforms to end all reforms–it has to be understood as an important step towards the end of the tyranny of King Phil A. Buster.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.