Harry Reid and Senate Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet, in no uncertain terms. If GOPers follow through with their threat to pursue the so-called “nuclear option” (a procedural maneuver that would outlaw filibusters on judicial nominations and allow them to slide through on a simple majority vote), Senate Dems will stop cooperating with all the legislative lubricants (many of which require unanimous consent) that keep the chamber operating.According to (subscription-only) Roll Call today, every Senate Democrat is on board with this strategy, and while Republicans claim to have 50 solid votes for upholding the rule change that’s at the heart of “going nuclear,” their ranks are shaky, beginning with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.There are several smart things about the way Reid has approached this fight.First, he’s made it clear that Democratic resistance will not extend to issues like support for U.S. troops, urgent national security matters, or the basic functioning of the federal government. This will avoid some of the parallels the media, in its two-sides-to-every-argument approach to partisan issues, would otherwise draw to Newt Gingrich’s defiant and hugely unsuccessful government shutdown of 1995.Second, Reid is treating the “nuclear option” not as a procedural matter, or even as a defiance of Senate traditions, but as part of a broader pattern of abuse of power by the Republicans who control Washington. As such, he is linking Democratic opposition to this tactic to a broader message of reform, which is exactly what Democrats ought to be doing every day of the year. If nothing else, it will help remind the roughly one-third of the population that doesn’t know who runs Congress that Republicans can no longer pose as the anti-Washington party, because they are in charge of the whole federal government.And third, in terms of the underlying dispute over the judiciary, Reid is linking Democratic resistance to a long bipartisan tradition of opposition to one-party and executive-branch control of the federal bench. I hope Democrats take every opportunity to remind people that these are lifetime appointments we are talking about, which could have a profound impact on the laws of this country for decades.Now, Democrats obviously have a Big Bertha in reserve: the GOP’s real goal, which is to pave the way for Supreme Court appointments designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, the long-delayed payoff to the cultural conservative foot-soldiers of the Republican base. As a self-proclaimed (if moderate) pro-lifer, Reid may well have special credibility in opposing an indirect assault on the right to choose, by GOPers who know they would lose any straight fight on abortion.Add it all up, and you’ve got a formula for raising the stakes on this obscure-sounding conflict, and that’s what Democrats need in order to win. Some real drama is required to overcome the media perception that this is just cloakroom maneuvering by the partisan pols in Washington, over a snoozer of an issue.Maybe the Democratic battle-plan will act as a deterrent to the deployment of the nuclear option. Some GOPers, after all, want to use the so-called Judicial Obstruction issue as a conservative fundraising and crowd-pleasing device going into the 2006 elections. And even more of them won’t be happy with the consequences of provoking a partial shutdown of the Senate, interfering with all sorts of opportunities for pork-barrelling, constituency-tending, and beast-starving (not to mention those handy little bills naming some home-state highway interchange after a big contributor or local potentate).But deterrent or not, this is a fight well worth having, and a fight that can only be won if Democrats are serious and systematic about waging it with a large reform message.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.