In the 1870s, cartoonist Thomas Nast published works that caricatured the Republican and Democratic parties as an elephant and a donkey, respectively. The mammalian representations stuck and continue to this day.
When it comes to the filibuster, however, the frog and the scorpion would be a more apt representation. You probably know the old fable. The frog, even knowing the scorpion has a tendency to sting, agrees to ferry it across the stream because the scorpion promises not to attack.
Midway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog anyway and both drown. Before they die, the frog asks the scorpion why it turned on him: “I could not help myself, it’s in my nature,” the scorpion replies.
Now, granted, politicians generally try to avoid damaging their own interests — even if they are more like scorpions than frogs — but the filibuster represents a particular exception. The first time the upper chamber considered the so-called “nuclear option” — doing away with the 60-vote threshold to end debate in the Senate and force a straight party-line vote — was when Democrats were holding up then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees in 2005.
The Democrats implored the Republicans to keep the filibuster in place for judicial nominees. One of the loudest voices for keeping the filibuster in place was then-Sen. Barack Obama, who said in a floor speech that voters “expect both parties to work together to get the people’s business done.”
“What they don’t expect is for one party — be it Republican or Democrat — to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet,” he said.
The Republicans kept the filibuster. Eight years later, when Obama was president and his judicial nominees were being filibustered by Republicans, Senate Democrats did what Obama begged the Senate GOP not to do and changed the rules to allow a party-line vote. Frog, meet scorpion. (That came back to hurt the Democrats when the GOP followed suit and changed the rules to remove the filibuster as a block to Supreme Court nominees, allowing President Donald Trump to seat three conservatives during his one term in office.)
Mainstream media outlets didn’t widely report on Obama’s 2005 speech at the time of the 2013 change, of course. Nor did they report on it when he called the 60-vote threshold “another Jim Crow relic” at Rep. John Lewis’ funeral in 2021, calling on the Senate to do away with it to pass sweeping voting reform legislation if need be.
(The Western Journal, it’s worth noting, made sure readers knew about Obama’s speech. It’s the kind of truth we bring readers that doesn’t get reported in the mainstream media. You can help us bring America the truth by subscribing.)
In 2022, the scorpion is trying to sting again. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signaled that he is willing to ditch the filibuster to get the Democrats’ voting-federalization legislation through the Senate.
“I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, to bake them in, vote and let the majority prevail,” Biden said in his speech, according to a White House transcript. “And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster.”
It’s unclear what votes Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has to get this done. The two usual holdouts — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — are a usual stumbling block, but Politico noted there were other potential holdouts, too.
Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jon Tester of Montana were all listed as having “nuance” to their views on the filibuster in Politico’s Tuesday report — which isn’t exactly opposition, but isn’t quite lock-step unity.
The Biden position in 2022 looks even worse in light of a 2017 letter signed by 27 Democrats to preserve the filibuster — back when the GOP controlled the House, Senate and White House.
And that includes a senator who now occupies a more prominent office: Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California senator, was one of the signers.
According to a Politico report from the time, the April 2017 letter came amid concerns that the GOP was going to expand the nuclear option; after Reid had done away with the filibuster on federal judicial nominees, the GOP expanded that to include Supreme Court nominees during the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
At that point, a bipartisan group of 61 senators — a majority of the Democrats, but just barely — signed a letter to Senate leadership, “urging them to preserve the 60 vote threshold for legislation.” The letter was authored by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and GOP Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who suffers from occasional bouts of RINO-itis.
“This letter demonstrates that a majority of the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, can come together to protect an important tradition of the Senate that recognizes the rights of the minority and makes bipartisan legislation more likely,” Collins said in a statement at the time.
“After the contentious and polarized debate of the past few weeks, I am hopeful that this letter indicates a new determination by a bipartisan group of more than 60 Senators to move forward to solve the pressing problems facing our nation.”
“Democrats want the Senate to work, and we are willing to partner with our colleagues across the aisle if we can get things done for the American people,” Coons said in the statement. “We have a long way to go to heal the wounds between our two parties, but this letter is a small first step towards that important goal.”
Those wounds have only deepened in the past few years — which, of course, is why the Democrats now want to go nuclear on their voting rights bills.
Harris isn’t the only Democrat on that list who’s flip-flopped in the intervening years, it’s worth noting:
Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts was a signatory in 2017; in 2020, he called for abolishing the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was a signatory in 2017; by 2021, he’d become an advocate of abolishing the 60-vote threshold.
Maine independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, held out until December, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald — until he decided that, since the Democrats’ sweeping voting reform act was stuck in the Senate, it was time for filibuster “reform.”
It’s not just hypocrisy, it’s disgrace.
And while it’s difficult to ascertain exactly where every signatory on the left is at the present moment, I don’t see Democrats like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez or Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse standing up for the filibuster now that Biden and the party’s progressive wing wants it gone. All signed onto the 2017 letter.
Why did they do that? Simple — because Republicans were in control.
Now, with their own party holding power by the slimmest of threads — the tie-breaking vote Harris as vice president — they want to get rid of the filibuster, even knowing it would allow a future Republican majority to run roughshod over them. Scorpions gotta scorpion.
It’s not that the filibuster is a bad idea. It’s a norm that encourages a deliberative legislative process that doesn’t just ram through haphazardly assembled bills or poorly qualified nominees because their passage or confirmation would inordinately benefit one side.
In this case, the Democrats’ bill is designed to put the federal government’s thumb on the electoral scales to benefit themselves in the short term with no demonstrable benefit to the American people or an objective increase in “voting rights.”
The Democrats currently in power don’t care if they’re damaging the country. They don’t even care, obviously, that their last move to get rid of filibuster power backfired so badly when it came to court nominations.
They want what they want, and they’re willing to sting to get it regardless of consequences — it’s in their nature.
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