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GOP: Ending Filibusters Is Unconstitutional and Un-American—and We'll Do it, Too

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Group/Getty Images

Now that Senate Democrats have pushed through a reform of the filibuster—at least as it concerns presidential appointments to the executive branch and the judiciary, not including the Supreme Court—Republicans are scrambling for a response. Their political message has essentially consisted of accusing Democrats of an undemocratic power play. This seems like an odd strategy because no one outside of Washington follows the ins and outs of Senate procedure, no one likes the idea of gridlock, and the Obama-as-Tyrant meme has never caught on outside of right-wing circles. Loudly complaining about the particular nominees Obama has chosen would probably have been a smarter strategy because people's individual records can always provide tidbits that can be easily politicized. But the procedural, "constitutional" case is the one Republicans have, oddly, decided on.

The most absurd aspect of this decision, however, has nothing to do with its potential political salience, and everything to do with the inherent contradictions of the Republican position. This is because the other side of the Republican response has been a threat—namely, a threat that, once in control of the Senate and the White House, they will act as Democrats are acting, and push nominees through with 50 votes. Charles Krauthammer makes this point explicitly, saying in the long run that Democrats will regret their decision. And here is Mitch McConnell:

Republicans accused Democrats of irreparably damaging the character of an institution that in many ways still operates as it did in the 19th century, and of disregarding the constitutional prerogative of the Senate as a body of “advice and consent” on presidential nominations. “You think this is in the best interest of the United States Senate and the American people?” asked the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, sounding incredulous.

“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think,” he added.

The implication of the barely veiled threat here is quite plain: Pretty soon, Republicans will make you rue the day that you altered procedure. This is the same Mitch McConnell who, in another speech on reforming the filibuster, claimed that "Senate Democrats are gearing up today to make one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of our nation. And I guarantee you, it is a decision that, if they actually go through with it, they will live to regret." He added that it would "irreparably damage the Senate" and "contribute to the ruination of our country."

Strong language. McConnell seconded it yesterday by saying, “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.” Lamar Alexander, the senator from Tennessee, added, similarly: “This is the most important and most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country. I firmly believe that the filibuster is a vital protection of the minority views and exactly why the framers of our Constitution made the Senate the ‘cooling saucer.’”

In short, the Republicans are angry that Democrats are doing something so undemocratic, so unconstitutional, so disrespecting of minority rights that ... Republicans are threatening to do the exact same thing once in power. This is the type of ethics that you find among kindergarteners ("you stole my toy, so it's okay to steal yours"), or people who believe in some crude version of an eye-for-an-eye. If McConnell and his caucus are serious, they should change the rules back once they have a majority. But of course they won't. The whole display is a charade. The only surprise is how blatantly obvious the charade is.