Have Republicans gone MAD (mutual assured destruction) on the filibuster?

Some Republicans want Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate, so their  DHS funding bill can pass, averting a government shutdown. But McConnell can’t go nuclear the filibuster alone. 

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky departs after a news conference following the weekly Senate party caucus luncheons at the US Capitol in Washington on Feb. 10. 2015. House and Senate Republicans are at odds on the way forward to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

Frustrated House Republicans lashed out against their Senate colleagues Thursday. Without a clear path forward on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho and others blamed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky for failing to save what is a bad legislative strategy. Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reports:

“Mitch McConnell can change the rules of the Senate,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Thursday at a panel discussion with conservative lawmakers. “And this is important enough for Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate.”

This is a catchy talking point that would have more bite if it wasn’t also certainly wrong. McConnell can’t go nuclear on the filibuster alone. He needs the support of his conference. Unless some dramatic, earth-shattering shift has occurred behind closed doors, McConnell likely does not have the votes to eliminate the filibuster.

The reality is that going nuclear on the legislative filibuster is not very popular on either side of the aisle. All senators gain influence from the filibuster. Today, the filibuster is commonly perceived as the minority’s tool to obstruct business. That’s true but unlimited debate also bolsters the rank-and-file in both parties. Threatening to filibuster a bill gives all senators enormous leverage in the negotiating process. For this reason most majority senators, even insurgents like Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, are unwilling to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

In the process of promising victories they cannot deliver, Congressman Labrador and his colleagues are also feeding a couple of underlying problems in the Republican Party. Statements like these set up unrealistic expectations. Many constituents likely believe McConnell is standing between conservatives and their immigration battle with the president. That is not the case.

Further, failing to understand (or acknowledge) leadership's limitations makes McConnell’s and House Speaker John Boehner’s jobs harder. Congressional leaders are only effective if others are willing to follow. Framing Republican leaders as weak, not conservative enough, or cowardly deters colleagues and constituents from following leaders’ cues. After all, why would a true conservative follow a weak, liberal Republican? Put simply, comments like these throw their party leaders, and the majority’s capacity to enact laws, under the bus.

Whether it’s principle, stubbornness, or an inability to grasp legislative process, House conservatives have gotten into a bad habit of shooting themselves in the foot and then blaming their leaders when they can’t walk. For whatever reason, leadership-bashing has come into vogue in the Republican Party. These tactics undermine credibility and the policymaking process. The only real winners in this scenario are fundraisers and those that do not want the Republican Party to exist in its current form. Because at this rate, it is hard to imagine this majority enacting much of anything resembling a conservative vision for the country.

Joshua Huder publishes his Rule 22 blog at http://rule22.wordpress.com.

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