Commentary

This time Reid gets it right

January 25, 2021 9:26 am

Harry Reid, and for that matter Barack Obama, could not have been more wrong on the prospects of Republican cooperation in 2009. But that was then. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

It’s not a question of if the Senate gets rid of the filibuster, but when.

Harry Reid has said that, or some iteration of it, countless times over the last year and a half.

So … when?

Joe Biden should give Republicans “no more than three weeks” to play nice before ending the filibuster, Reid told The Associated Press in October.

Reid has since widened his chronological window.

“I would think two or three months at the most,” Reid told Roll Call in a story published on inauguration day, suggesting Republican Senate obstruction between now and then would be so obvious it will convince not only Biden but even bashful Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Kyrsten Sinema that it’s time for the filibuster to go.

There are Republicans and Democrats alike who warn Biden and the Democrats mustn’t “overreach,” or congressional Republicans won’t work with them.

Reid is no stranger to this argument. A couple weeks before Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Reid, then the Senate majority leader, cautioned the new president and congressional Democrats to be “very, very careful” about overreaching, because they would need cooperation from Republicans and so mustn’t upset them.

Obama needed no encouragement. His whole schtick was already about compromise and extending a hand across the aisle.

And each time he extended his hand, Republicans tried to snarl it off.

Reid, and for that matter Obama, could not have been more wrong on the prospects of Republican cooperation in 2009.

That was then. Now both of them are slamming the filibuster. Obama described it as a “Jim Crow relic.”

Reid is obviously right on one point: There is no doubt Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues will be full-on obstructionists to Biden and the Democrats. That’s an easy call, and why Reid is also right to urge the filibuster’s demise.

A lot more doubt surrounds Reid’s prediction that Biden and the moderate extremists among the Senate Democrats will muster the nerve to free the Senate of the filibuster.

The words “Reid” and “filibuster” conjure up a lot of sturm und drang. As Senate majority leader, he nuked it for federal judges during the Obama administration, because McConnell and his Republican Senate kept using it to block Obama’s nominees.

But Republicans regained control of the Senate, and then hung on to it, a turn of events made possible by the constitutional obscenity allowing Wyoming the same number of senators as states with ten or 20 – or in California’s case, 68 – times more people. 

And then McConnell saw Reid’s lifting of the filibuster for federal judges, and raised it, nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, too. 

As a result, federal courts at all levels, including the Supreme Court, are stacked with Trump appointees of often dubious legal qualifications but whose ideological right-wing bona fides are pristine. The federal judiciary will be taking the nation backwards socially while accelerating economic inequities for decades.

As Republicans might say, “Nice work, Harry Reid,” or words to that effect.

Maybe the federal courts wouldn’t be perniciously stacked by Trump, with Trumpers,  if Reid hadn’t started the nuking. Or maybe McConnell would have nuked on his own.

At this point, that’s not the issue.

The issue now has been explained again and again by a lot of folks, including journalist Ezra Klein and former Reid staffer Adam Jentleson. Both argue the only way Democrats will win in 2022 — oh hi Catherine Cortez Masto! — is by enacting policies that help people between now and that midterm election, and the only chance of doing that is if the filibuster is axed.

Nevada’s Democratic senators have expressed a very strong position on ending the filibuster, and that position is that they would very much prefer not to talk about it.

Cortez Masto was heading the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee through the 2020 cycle, and part and parcel of that job is to say as little as possible about any issue that might possibly be contentious within the Democratic Party or make some Democrat somewhere ill at ease. 

Jacky Rosen is just like that all the time.

But Rosen, Cortez Masto and other Democrats surely are taking into consideration all the pros and cons of eliminating the filibuster, including, hopefully, this one:

McConnell doesn’t want them to do it.

In the negotiations over how to run a 50-50 Senate that Democrats control because they control the vice presidency, McConnell tried to get Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to promise Democrats wouldn’t try to kill the filibuster.

Schumer may be many things. Stupid isn’t one of them. He said no.

But c’mon Senate Democrats. Few indicators more clearly recommend the urgent need of a policy action than Mitch McConnell being against it.

Nevada in particular would benefit from the elimination of the filibuster, though for a reason neither Reid, Nevada’s current Senate Democrats, nor any other official or prominent person in the state would ever admit.

From one of the nation’s most regressive tax systems to chronically underfunded public  services to humiliating itself on the resort industry’s behalf by inviting visitors to come party on the Strip on New Year’s Eve during a pandemic, every day, in countless ways, Nevada proves it is incapable of taking care of itself, and hell-bent on refusing to do so anyway. Nevada, and more to the point, Nevadans, are not going to get policies, services and quality of life befitting a 21st century society, or even a lousy $15 minimum wage, unless the federal government makes it happen. And that will necessarily mean eliminating the filibuster.

As in 2009, one of the arguments against killing the filibuster is that it would be Democratic “overreach” that will only further alienate Republicans, thus making it even more difficult to “unite our deeply divided nation,” etc., etc., etc. Not surprisingly, the people making this argument tend to be Republicans.

That’s rich.

Over the last four years, there has been no higher priority for the Trump-serving Republican Party and its Trump-worshiping base — not the wall, not tax cuts, not even the judges — than sticking it to the libs.

But now, or so a popular narrative goes, Democrats must not upset all the people who voted for the losing presidential candidate. Democrats, according to solemn commentators on serious news programs, must be sensitive to those who are deeply disappointed about the election outcome. 

Screw that.

Democrats, including and especially Cortez Masto and Rosen, have a brief opportunity to flip the switch and start building an economy and a society that respects people, instead of tolerating a society and economy that preys on them. 

Rather than waste time wringing their hands over Trump voters’ hurt feelings, Biden and Senate Democrats should kill the filibuster. Then they can start fixing the many long-standing national failures the pandemic has so harshly exposed, and in 2022, run on that.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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