The Democratic Filibuster Straddle

At TPM Daniel Straus has a murky account of Democratic intentions towards the use of the filibuster now that Republicans are in charge of the Senate. Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, a supporter of filibuster reform when Democrats were in the majority, clearly wants to signal his party will not simply flip-flop and emulate past Republican abuse of the filibuster. But it’s not entirely clear where they will draw the line.

When Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to his chamber’s floor on Wednesday he warned that the now minority Senate Democrats “had no intention of just rolling over” but added that the “gratuitous obstruction and wanton filibustering” of Republicans in the last Congress wouldn’t be something Democrats would mimic now, pointing toward a big question about the 114th Congress….

“My hunch is that Democrats will back away from some of the outer extremes of the GOP’s exploitation of the cloture rule. Keep in mind that the GOP exploited the rule quite often on nominations,” George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder told TPM in an email interview. Binder suspected that’s what Durbin meant when he said “gratuitous obstruction” since Republicans mostly voted against cloture but also voted to confirm most nominees.

Well, since (a) the rules change banning the filibuster of executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominations remains in effect for the time being, and (b) Democrats obviously aren’t going to filibuster Barack Obama’s nominations in any event, Durbin’s disclaimer sounds pretty empty to me. Remaining cagey on the subject may give Senate Democrats some leverage with Mitch McConnell, not to mention preserve the option of becoming total obstructionists in the event Republicans win the White House in 2016 while holding on to Congress. But it’s not necessary for the moment; there’s absolutely nothing Senate Democrats can do with a filibuster that Barack Obama cannot do with his seldom-used veto pen. I’d sure like to see more of it, instead of another confirmation that the filibuster is here to stay.

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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.