11.27.2013 0

Beyond whimper, little Republican response to filibuster demise

Wonderful_Life-2By Robert Romano

Despite the brazen power grab by Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Harry Reid to blatantly ignore Senate rules to overcome cloture on most presidential nominees, there has been little Republican backlash to a move that has sharply changed the power structure in Washington, D.C.

This is a rule that has stood the test of time for some 96 years. It requires a three-fifths majority on items lacking unanimous consent, and explicitly requires a two-thirds majority to amend Senate rules.

But Reid swept that all aside in one fell swoop.  The Senate did not even bother with actually amending the rules, instead voting with a bare majority to simply disregard them whenever it suits the majority.

Were the shoe on the other foot, if Republicans had done this, one would expect that Democrats led by Reid would shut the Senate down entirely. Deny unanimous consent on everything, and then deny cloture, until Republicans relented and the standing rules were reestablished.

But beyond verbal condemnation and using the issue politically on the margins to help Senate GOP candidates in 2014, there has been little in the way actual consequences. No action to deny unanimous consent on Senate proceedings. Not even so much as a long-shot court challenge to test the new Senate precedent’s legality.

In short, the Senate GOP has allowed a near-century old standing rule to be obliterated, and with it, basic parliamentary order in the Senate — with little more than a whimper in response.

Except, perhaps, to impose a double standard upon themselves — seemingly promising not to do the same thing whenever they get back in the majority. That’ll show them.

In the meantime, Republican leadership seems more concerned with taking on the tea party and any candidate that dares to question their effectiveness, instead of doing what they should be doing to defend their party’s prerogatives in the institution of the Senate.

In the process, the GOP’s ineffective response to Reid’s nuclear option illustrates perfectly why Senate Republicans are receiving so many primary challenges nowadays.

Point in case is Ben Sasse, a Republican running in the primary for the open Nebraska Senate seat being vacated by Mike Johanns, who is now being targeted by GOP leaders. Sasse’s crime?

Posting a Youtube video where he demands “every Republican in Washington, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to show some actual leadership,” and being endorsed by the Senate Conservative Fund — a political action committee run by tea party favorite Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.

Never mind that Sasse is not even challenging an incumbent Republican senator — again, it’s an open seat — now merely being associated with Lee and Cruz, or questioning leadership in the Senate that has been feckless at best at slowing the Obama agenda is enough to draw the ire of the establishment.

Primaries, of course, serve as a legitimate check by the people against incumbent elected officials. Stray too far off the reservation and any senator could be risking a primary. It’s par for the course. Ask Bob Bennett, who was defeated by Mike Lee in Utah, or John McCain in Arizona, who has survived primary challenges before.

Certainly, this can come to directly challenge even party leaders — as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is discovering in Kentucky against Matt Bevin.

On one hand, it would be naïve for tea party groups to assume that their challenge to party leadership would not be met with blowback of some kind. Yet, Republicans might be better suited taking primary challenges in stride and keeping the campaign above the belt, instead of complaining about it.

Pushing too hard against the primary process itself can hurt party leaders and may end up helping the challengers by confirming their narrative of an entrenched establishment clinging to power.

Particularly at a time when the Ted Cruz-Mike Lee effort to shut down Obamacare before it took effect has been seemingly vindicated by the law’s sloppy rollout, even a slight course correction by Senate Republicans might be in order.

After all, maybe Cruz and Lee were onto something. Perhaps waiting until 2017, the earliest when Republicans could have majorities in both houses of Congress and the White House to deal with Obamacare  — the presumed strategy of party is not the best strategy. Possibly, the American people cannot afford to wait that long.

Instead, since the partial government shutdown fight over Obamacare, it has been civil war without end, with Senate Republican leaders seemingly more interested in intramural squabbles than doing anything about, say, Harry Reid’s unilateral overturning of the filibuster.

What to make of these priorities? Apparently, that taking out the tea party is a more urgent problem to leaders than the impending destruction of the nation’s health care system and the disintegration of the Senate as a meaningful check on executive power. Not exactly a winning message.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

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