Senate Minority Leader today took the phrase “self-defeating” to a new height.
He felt he would embarrass the Democrats by putting them on the spot by demanding a vote — but then Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose career was built on opponents underestimating him, decided to call his bluff and give the vote.
So McConnell filibustered himself.
Now, to many Americans, cravenly political stunts, insincerity and political incompetence are probably more associated in their minds with the word “Congress” than with solution solving. But McConnell made history in two ways:
1. He became the embodiment of negative perceptions about Congress (see two sentences above).
2. He proposed a bill and then filibustered himself.
Shall we call this a “political one-some?”
A move to embarrass Democrats backfired on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday as the Kentucky Republican proposed a vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling — then filibustered it when the Democrats tried to take him up on the offer.
On Thursday morning McConnell had made a motion for the vote on legislation that would let the president extend the country’s borrowing limit on his own. Congress would then have the option to disapprove such hikes, in a fashion similar to one that McConnell first suggested during last year’s standoff over the debt ceiling.
The minority leader apparently did not think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would take him up on his offer, which would have allowed McConnell to portray President Barack Obama’s desire for such authority as something even Democrats opposed.
Reid objected at first, but told McConnell he thought it might be a good idea. After Senate staff reviewed the proposal, Reid came back to the floor and proposed a straight up-or-down vote on the idea.
McConnell was forced to say no.
“What we’re talking about here is a perpetual debt ceiling grant, in effect, to the president, ” McConnell said. “Matters of this level of controversy always require 60 votes.”
Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster during debate on a bill and hold a vote.
Democrats immediately seized on McConnell’s reversal, noting it was the sort of obstruction that they think warrants changes to the rules on filibusters.
“What we have here is a case of the Republicans here in the Senate once again not taking yes for an answer,” Reid said. “This morning the Republican leader asked consent to have a vote on his proposal. Just now I told everyone we’re willing to have that vote, an up-or-down vote, and now the Republican leader objects to his own idea, so I guess we have a filibuser of his own bill.”
Watch it for yourself:
OOPS! We almost forgot a third point about McConnell’s accomplishment:
3. He gave a living, breathing example of why there is a need for filibuster reform.
SOME OTHER REACTION:
If Mitch McConnell wants to be taken seriously when he complains about proposed changes to the filibuster rule, he probably shouldn’t go out and do ridiculous things like filibustering himself. He seriously asked Harry Reid to have a vote on the president’s plan to keep Congress from destroying our credit rating. And when Harry Reid said, “Okay, let’s vote,” McConnell refused to grant unanimous consent for it.
…Harry Reid is from Nevada. They know a little something there about calling people’s bluffs and making them show their cards. He just ate McConnell’s lunch and drank his milkshake.
Does anyone want to argue that McConnell isn’t taking his abuse of the filibuster to a preposterous extreme?
But the bottom line is that Republicans thought Dems would not be united behind the idea of giving the president more control over the debt ceiling.
But Dems turned out to be united enough to agree to a straight up or down vote. Which forced McConnell to filibuster it, to prevent it from passing the Senate.
This is a key development, because it’s the first major test we’ve seen of whether Dems will remain united behind the idea that Congress should mostly relinquish control over the debt ceiling to the president. Dems passed this test.
This isn’t to say that Dems will continue to remain unified on the debt ceiling. Things could soon get a lot more difficult, particularly if Republicans make good on their vow to use the debt ceiling to leverage entitlement cuts next year, and Obama makes good on his refusal to countenance the debt ceiling having any role in the talks. It remains to be seen how unified Dems will remain behind Obama at that point. But with even GOP-aligned interests in the business community coming out against a rerun of the 2011 debacle, today’s events may bode well for Dems holding the line.
One more time: It’s not 2011 anymore.
His intent was apparently to show “that even Democrats would not support such a bill,” a bill that would have given the president the authority to raise the federal debt ceiling on his own.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called his bluff, called for a vote, and in so many words, called McConnell a blatant hypocrite.
McConnell obstructing McConnell: Irony is not dead.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.