There has been quite a bit of talk in here, especially in some of my comment threads about whether or not Mitch McConnell will simply go nuclear on the filibuster of SCOTUS nominees if the Democrats dare to pull the same stunt that he did for almost a year on the Merrick Garland nomination. The majority felt that McConnell wouldn’t hesitate to go nuclear on the filibuster. I read all of the comments, they were well thought out and made valid points. But let’s take this a step deeper, into the mechanics and politics at play here, and see what his likelihood of success would be.
Let’s make this clear. There is no way to stop Mitch McConnell from calling for the simple vote to do away with the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees, he’s in the majority, he can call for pretty much whatever he wants, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But there are several questions here, including a question as to whether or not he can win a simple majority vote should he call the measure to the floor. Let’s take a look.
First of all, would McConnell even call for a vote? I have a couple of reasons to doubt this. When McConnell came into the majority in 2014, there was loud and strident calling for him to nuke the filibuster for simple bills, to force Obama to veto everything. McConnell refused to do it, and even explained that no party stays in power forever, what goes around comes around. He opined that someday the Democrats would come to regret having done away for the filibuster of lower court and cabinet appointees when a Republican was in the White House. He was right, and that time is now. The Republicans used the filibuster very effectively to hold the SCOTUS seat open for almost a year for a Republican President to fill, and if Hillary had won, he would have obstructed her nominees too, as long as he kept the majority. He is looking at the long game, and he will be loathe to dispatch with a club that he may need and want to use in the near to intermediate future.
Second, McConnell just doesn’t give off the vibes of someone who is gung ho to nuke the filibuster for SCOTUS appointees. Long before Harry Reid pushed the button, he issued several stern, steel spined statements from the well of the Senate that he would not hesitate to go nuclear on appointments if the GOP didn’t cut their shit. It was only after several of these warnings, and the passage of time for negotiation that he pushed the button, leaving the GOP minority screaming like a bunch of two year olds who had gotten their favorite toy taken away for punishment. McConnell’s sorry ass, faux outrage response to Shumer threatening to do the same thing to his SCOTUS nominees was that the American people wouldn’t accept obstruction of filling the seat. Really? We already put up with it for a year under his obstruction. Please note that there were no dark hints of revenge or retribution in his statement, and no overt threats to do away with the filibuster. At least in the near term McConnell seems to be set on trying to put pressure on the Democrats to cave, and to wait them out.
But let’s continue the discussion, I ain’t getting any younger here. Let’s say that Yertl the Turtle decides to call for the floor vote. It’s strictly a procedural vote, no filibuster, in reality only 50 votes needed since Pence would cast a 50-50 tie breaking vote. The current GOP advantage is 52-48, no problemo. But if he called it to the floor, could he get 51 votes? There is reason for doubt.
There are some older Republicans who are “old school” Senators, they grew up with the rules and like the way that they are right now. Also, they have no plans on going anywhere, and will think far enough forward to know that an inevitable turn in fortunes for the GOP will come. Lindsey Graham, and John McCain fit that category. There are also a few GOP Senators who have no particular love for Trump, and may have no particular incentive to help him out on this. Ted Cruz, by default Mike Lee and Marco Rubio fall into this category, as well as Rand Paul. Let’s look at their possible motivations for revolt.
More and more each day it appears that the old “Maverick” is back. John McCain has been in a semi public guerilla war with Trump ever since he got the nomination, Mein Furor besmirching his hero status alone had to hit deeply. McCain is safe for six years, and he isn’t going anywhere, he just got reelected to another term. If McCain is in the Senate for six more years, he has the foresight to know that the winds may be a changing, and why give up the filibuster, especially for a guy who attacked him so viciously when he wasn’t even running?
Lindsey Graham is in a similar situation. He isn’t scheduled to run again until 2020, and can ride out Trump’s first term. Graham and McCain are practically married at the hip. And Trump also slammed Graham, not only mocking his low poll numbers, but releasing publicly his personal cell phone number, forcing Graham to change it. Again, if Graham runs for reelection in 2020, wins, and Trump loses, what’s his incentive to give up the filibuster club to help out The Orange Julius.
This one is a twofer. Ted Cruz is a bit different, he has to stand for reelection in 2018, but with his firebrand style he should be a no brainer. Also, I can already smell Cruz sowing the seeds for a 2020 run if Trump decides to call it quits. Even if he loses in 2020, he’s ensconced in the Senate until at least 2024. He already knows what an effective tool the filibuster can be, does he want to get rid of it? Add to that the humiliation of Trump not only insulting his wife Heidi on her looks, but smearing his father with a long debunked JFK assassination conspiracy theory, throw in his natural rebellion at the GOP establishment, and you have little reason for him to simply “fall in line”. Cruz has already stood up to Trump, speaking at the convention, yet refusing to support the candidate. Mike Lee from Utah is Cruz’s faithful lackey and friend, and he’s also safe, he just won another six years. He has backed Cruz in other harebrained schemes, why should this time be any different?
Likewise for Marco Rubio. He just won another six years, he’s insulated from Trump’s wrath. And he’s already jingling his spurs at the thought of another run in 2020 if Trumpenfuhror cops a walk. Also, politicians don’t like personal insults, and Trump mocking him for his sweating, and also ridiculing his Senate attendance found their mark, I can guarantee you, he has no logical reason to make Trump’s life easier, especially if he wants him to bail in 2020 to give Rubio another shot at it.
Rand Paul is a little different, but still similar. He too just won another six years, he’s insulated from Trump’s insults and wrath. I can’t see Paul running for President again, he seemed to loathe the experience while he was doing it, almost like he was doing it out of homage to his old man. But that didn’t stop The Trumpster Fire from insulting his looks and record. Paul also knows what an effective tool the filibuster can be, having used it himself. He has also already spoken out against the Cheeto Prophet, promising to scuttle two possible Trump appointees for SoS in committee. Paul is a true wild card in this equation.
So there you have it. Can McConnell call for a floor vote to scuttle the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees, of course he can. But will he actually do it, and if he does, will the motion be successful? Let’s head to the poll and find out.