Senate Rules

Mitch McConnell and the “Republican brand”

TL;DR: Mitch McConnell feels threatened by principled conservatives and feels that they’re ruining the “Republican brand” by challenging him and other establishment Republicans. But really, the “Republican brand” is in shambles, and it’s time to re-define that brand to return to small-government principles.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t a happy camper these days. He’s locked in both a contentious primary and general election fight, losing rule battles against his Democratic counterpart, and has to contend with some members of his own party who are constantly willing to stand on principle, rather than the party line.

“The ‘Republican brand’ was severely damaged several years ago. That was largely due to dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, an unpopular war, and corruption in Congress.”

The rise of the Tea Party movement and conservative organizations have created havoc for McConnell and Republican leadership in the chamber, who enjoyed mostly distant rumblings from the political right in the past. But over the last few months, there has been a tiff between the Kentucky Republican and the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) that has now boiled over into the public.

Senate on a slippery path with filibuster change

The manufactured crisis last week that led to extraordinary, unprecedented change to the filibuster, prompted by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats, is the first step down a road that undermines the nature of the chamber and will, almost certainly, lead to bigger changes.

The Senate was meant to be the more prestigious body of Congress and its members, given six-year terms, were selected to be responsive to state interests in Washington. Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, were meant to serve as the voices of the people, subject to re-election every two years.

Contrary to what President Obama said in his statement after the filibuster change, that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” the upper chamber was never meant to serve as a “voice of the people,” nor was meant to rubber stamp majoritarian views or interest.

It was meant, as James Madison once said, “to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Passing legislation and approving nominees based on consensus. The filibuster — which has existed as a concept since the chamber was created and in practice since 1837 — was a tool to achieve consensus.

But, over time, the Senate has become more and more like the House, beginning in 1913 with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated direct election of senators by voters in their respective states.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about a legislative branch that was too responsive to the whims of majority views, which could potentially be dangerous to essential liberty. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the problem of faction.

Make that two times Mary Landrieu used taxpayer funds to travel to campaign fundraisers

It’s a not exactly a difficult rule to grasp: members of Congress can’t use their taxpayer-funded office accounts for to campaign. But Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has, for the second time this week, come under fire for using her Senate office account to charter a flight to a campaign fundraiser, via CNN:

The Louisiana Democrat chartered a private plane last September to travel from New Orleans to Shreveport, where she attended an official event. She then traveled on to Dallas, where she attended a fundraiser.

Under federal law and Senate rules, the cost of a trip that includes official and campaign stops must often be prorated between Senate and campaign accounts. However, if the campaign activity is “incidental” to the official trip, the expense doesn’t need to be split up. In this case, Landrieu’s Senate office picked up the whole cost of the trip.
A Senate aide said that because Landrieu was already going to be in Dallas, the office considered the fundraiser incidental and not an expense that had to be partially covered by the campaign.

CNN reported earlier this week that Landrieu used her official Senate account to charter a flight from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana so she could attend a campaign fundraiser. Landrieu, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, has agreed to reimburse the Senate (read: taxpayers) nearly $6,000 for the two flights.

Harry Reid goes “nuclear” on the filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and most members of the Democratic conference voted today to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for executive nominations, excluding Supreme Court appointments, after Republicans blocked three appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Executive nominees now need only 51 votes to win confirmation from the Senate. The change was approved by the Senate by a vote of 52 to 48. Three Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) — joined every Senate Republican to vote against the rule change.

Reid complained that Republicans had forced him to call for the change in Senate rules because of, what he called, “unprecedented obstruction” and claimed that the it’s “something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”

“The American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. The American people – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock,” said Reid from the Senate floor. “The American people want Washington to work for American families once again.”

The rule change is an attempt to change the narrative. President Obama and Democrats have talked up “gridlock” in government to get attention off of the problems with Obamacare. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made that point to colleagues this morning.

Top 10 Longest Senate Filibusters

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke for 21 hours and 19 minutes between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wouldn’t raise the vote threshold to amend the Continuing Resolution (CR) from a simply majority (51 votes) to 60 votes, giving Senate Democrats the ability to strike language defunding ObamaCare without Republican support.

The filibuster, which has existed for more than 200 years, has long-been used as a tool to slowdown or prevent passage of legislation with which members disagree.

Below is a brief look at the top 10 filibusters in Senate history. While Cruz’s control of the floor wasn’t technically a filibuster in the true sense, as he couldn’t stop the already scheduled cloture vote on the motion to proceed, it would rank fifth on the list.

10. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) — 8 hours, 39 minutes (2003)

Senators meet to save filibuster, no deal reached

While a deal wasn’t reached last night, members of the Senate emerged from a joint caucus with an optimistic tone that the filibuster could be saved from the “nuclear option,” which would fundamentally change the rules of the chamber.

Because Senate Republicans have objected to some of President Barack Obama’s appointments to cabinet-level posts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) threatened to do away with the filibuster, a procedural hurdle that has existed in the chamber for more than 170 years.

The Hill reported that there was a consensus among members that they should try to reach a deal. It appears, however, that Reid will wait determine the fate of the filibuster this morning as the Senate will begin votes on some of the blocked nominees.

The first vote will be on the appointment of Richard Cordray to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This vote may determine the fate of the filibuster. Reid also wants Republicans to allow votes on three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB appointments are particularly concerning due to President Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments. Two appellate courts — the D.C. Circuit and Third Circuit — have already voided the appointments and the actions taken by the NLRB over the last 18 months. The Supreme Court is slated to hear the case this fall.

Senate Democrats May Again Try to Curtail the Filibuster

Here we go again. After making a deal with Republicans over the filibuster at the beginning of the current session, some Senate Democrats are threatening once more to eliminate the procedural tactic because they can’t get the votes necessary to push through President Barack Obama’s nominees to regulatory bodies:

Senate Democrats frustrated with the GOP’s blocking of a string of President Obama’s nominees are seriously weighing a controversial tactic known as the “nuclear option.”

The option — which would involve Democrats changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster to block nominations — was raised during a private meeting Wednesday involving about 25 Democratic senators and a group of labor leaders.
The labor groups expressed frustration over future nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, as well as Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor.

Democrats’ anger also boiled over last week when Republicans stalled Gina McCarthy, the president’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, by boycotting a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Both of these regulatory bodies have come under fire over the last couple of years. President Obama made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) early last year, but because the Senate wasn’t technically in recess, those appointments were found to be unconstitutional.

Senate leaders reach deal on the filibuster

Harry Reid

After months of whining about the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) came up with an agreement on the filibuster that will stall attempts by Senate Democrats to go nuclear:

The Reid-McConnell package would create a new path for eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed to new business. Under current rules, a senator can hold up a motion to even begin debating legislation.

The majority leader would be able to bar a filibuster on a motion to proceed if he allows each side to vote on two amendments, according to a Senate aide familiar with the package. Non-germane amendments would be subject to a 60-vote threshold, under this scenario.

This change would be adopted as a standing order that would sunset after two years, creating a trial period. Sixty senators must vote for it.

Alternatively, the deal would allow for expedited consideration of motions to proceed in cases where the majority and minority leaders agree to bring up a measure and eight senators from each party — including the leaders – sign a petition to end debate. Such fast-track consideration of motions to proceed would be set up by permanent rules change requiring 67 votes.

The tentative deal would expedite the process for sending legislation to conference negotiations with the House. But lawmakers would still be allowed to filibuster any effort to send legislation to a Senate-House negotiation.

Harry Reid delays going “nuclear” on filibuster

Harry Reid

Despite frequent threats to go nuclear on the filibuster and minority rights, it looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will temporarily hold off on making changes to the long-held rule when the new Congress comes into session today:

He has a chance to go “nuclear” Thursday, but instead Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to punt a decision on the filibuster until later this month.

With a new Congress being sworn in Thursday, Reid had threatened to invoke what critics call the “nuclear option”: Changing filibuster rules by 51 votes on the first day of a new session, circumventing the usual requirement in which at least 67 senators are needed to change Senate rules.

Instead, he’ll employ a circuitous procedure to technically keep the Senate in its first legislative day by sending the chamber into recess — rather than adjourning. That move would keep the Senate in session, preserving his option of pushing forward with the so-called nuclear option at a later date.

That will buy Reid time for further negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to see if they can reach a bipartisan agreement, aides said Wednesday. It could delay the fight until the week of Jan. 22.

Reid and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to some rule changes, including eliminating “secret holds” after the 2010 mid-term election. McConnell also agreed to scale back use of the filibuster, although the rules surrounding the tactic were left untouched.

Reid vs. Reid on the Filibuster

See Video

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.