Back in 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the Senate’s filibuster rules so presidential Cabinet nominees only required 51 votes, rather than 60, to be confirmed. As a result, President Trump will only need the support of Republican senators (there are 52 of them right now) for his nominees to sail through.
Now several Democratic senators say they regret the 2013 change. But Vox’s Matt Yglesias thinks they’re mistaken. On the latest episode of The Weeds, Yglesias argues that doing away with the filibuster has been a blessing in disguise for the new Democratic minority.
Matt’s case: Weakening the filibuster rules allows parties in the minority to make clear to the voters that they don’t support a president’s Cabinet picks, without having to worry about the impact doing so will have on the government.
Under the old filibuster system, Yglesias notes, Senate Democrats would have had to figure out how to both appease their base’s anger toward Trump and ensure that some Cabinet officials were placed in office to make sure the executive branch could function. Under the new system, Democrats can decry whichever of Trump’s nominees they truly think are bad for the country — streamlining their responsibilities and their message to the voters.
Here’s Matt’s take (you can stream the episode at the link above, or subscribe to The Weeds on iTunes here):
It’s easy to say, “Ha-ha, Democrats have egg on their faces; they probably wish they hadn’t done this.”
But I think in a lot of ways, they themselves are glad. It would be super annoying for [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer to try to navigate the shoals of, “We need to be reasonable and keep the government operating, but also half my constituents think Donald Trump is going to implement a fascist dictatorship.” It’s so much easier to be in a position to just look at these people and say, “I genuinely think James Mattis is a reasonable choice for defense secretary, so I will vote for him. And I genuinely think Betsey DeVos is not a good education secretary, so I will vote no.” They’ll know that if Republicans want to put people in, they’ll go in. I think Democrats, in their hearts, are happier to just be able to say what they think.
Schumer doesn't have to look at these picks, then look at his caucus, and say, "What line can I really ask [moderate Indiana Democrat] Joe Donnelly to hold?" Who is [North Dakota’s] Heidi Heitkamp really going to stick with me and block? Because it doesn't matter. If these Trump nominees get zero Democratic votes, or they get 15 Democratic votes — it's completely irrelevant. They're going through one way or another.
So it's just purely a messaging task: What do the liberals and party leadership want to say about Trump’s Cabinet? Because they're not doing anything. It's much more like a parliamentary democracy — you're there; you're on camera; there's an official opposition. And they'll say, "What does Chuck Schumer think about Steve Mnuchin?" And then he’ll get to say it without having to try to be responsible for keeping the government running.
- Vox’s coverage of the hearings for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state.
- Gregory Koger on the current state of the filibuster
- The white paper of the week, co-authored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Abby Alpert: “Supply-side drug policy in the presence of substitutes,” about the opioid crisis
- The book Dreamland: the true tale of America’s opiate epidemic, by journalist Sam Quinones
- How tax cuts are central to Republicans’ Obamacare repeal push
- “Trumpcare, explained,” by Vox’s Sarah Kliff
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