the national interest

Republican Senator Discovers Minority Can ‘Filibuster,’ Is Outraged

Sen. Bob Corker
Bob Corker shocked to discover Senate rules allow the minority to prevent a straight-up vote. Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images

During the first two years of the Obama administration, Democrats enjoyed comfortable control of the House of Representatives, and well over half the Senate. Republican leverage became the filibuster, which the party used as a routine supermajority requirement to block everything. Senator Bob Corker was one of those Republicans. Corker helped craft an agreement to bring a bill to a vote in Congress that would overturn the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear agreement. This bill flipped the old dynamic — now it is Democrats who want to block a bill, and Republicans who want to pass it. And Corker is outraged, outraged, that Democrats would resort to a tactic as low as a filibuster to block his bill:

… when he saw Reid say that he is trying to build a filibuster, his response was: “Are you kidding me?”

Is that where they really want to be? Do they really want to vote to block consideration of … probably the biggest foreign policy endeavor?” Corker said in an interview. “Do they want to be in a place where they voted to keep from going to the substance [of the Iran debate]?”

Amazing. The first time, the very first time, Democrats might use a filibuster of their own, you have a Republican managing to talk himself into the view that a filibuster is bad for democracy.

Technically, a filibuster is a device to prevent a vote on a bill. Usually, supporters of the filibuster present it not as a supermajority requirement, which it is, but as a grand form of elevated debate in the tradition of the old Roman Senate. It doesn’t really have anything to do with debate — usually, when the minority holds a filibuster, nothing happens on the Senate floor at all. Some Democrats have proposed to force the minority to actually talk during filibusters, but that hasn’t gone anywhere.

Now Corker seems to be framing the filibuster as the anti-debate method rather than the pro-debate method. (He is concerned about “consideration” and “substance.”) In fact, whether a bill needs 51 or 60 votes to pass is irrelevant to how much debate or consideration it gets. Every senator who wants the chance to read their canned talking points on the Senate floor while the other senators ignore them will have the chance to do so either way.

Republican Outraged Minority Can ‘Filibuster’