by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Remember “norms”? Throughout the Trump presidency, this was one of the watchwords of the Washington establishment. It was invoked in issues small (a vulgar tweet about a journalist) and large (a months-long campaign to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election). However, as congressional Democrats consider the nuclear option against the filibuster, institutional Washington has fallen oddly silent about the importance of norms.
Yes, it’s time for yet another exchange about the filibuster, a kind of Groundhog Day for the battle over the institutional norms of American democracy. A few Democratic stalwarts — principally Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), though one suspects that they have some quiet sympathizers — have stood against the coordinated effort to blow up the rules of the Senate. Congress is returning after its Memorial Day holiday, and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer as well as progressive activist groups have indicated that they hope to mount a sustained campaign against the filibuster in June.
Instead of trying to check political overreach, the Washington press corps has tried to drum up a battle over the filibuster. Despite being crystal-clear that he will not support the nuclear option, Joe Manchin is asked daily whether he will reverse his position. The senior senator from West Virginia has found more ways to say no than there are states in the union, but reporters still pepper him about the filibuster. Curiously, few pro-nuke Democrats have been pushed on why they are abandoning their 2017 pledge to protect the filibuster — to explain how the filibuster went from being a key part of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to an anti-democratic monstrosity.
The fact that many members of the Washington establishment have been so sympathetic to a relentless campaign to nuke the filibuster might tell us something about how the political establishment itself has changed in recent decades.