May , 2005
As the filibuster battle rises to a climax, the Washington Post reports that a bipartisan group is laboring mightily to avert what some fear would be Armageddon. With a 55-45 majority in the Senate, the Republicans would need to keep half of the eight moderates listed below on board. Vice President Dick Cheney says he would cast the deciding vote in favor of a rule change if it came to a tie, but I don't think the Republicans would want to risk a total breakdown in relations with the Democrats by imposing a rule change without a majority. The following senators are ranked in order of least likely to most likely to support the proposed rules change, with notes on leanings or factors influencing them.
There is intense pressure from both sides in this debate, and many political organizations are rallying members to call their senators. For example, upordownvote.org on the right, and moveonpac.org (part of MoveOn.org) on the left, which is full of wild accusations about "radical Republicans" who want to "stack the courts with extreme judges." Whatever the political angle, frankly, I think all such calls to citizen action over a highly arcane procedural issue in Congress are a waste of time, and I hope senators don't spend too much time fretting over their standing with constituents.
GOP moderates are often called "RINOs" (Republicans in name only) by the hard-core conservative activists, the kind who gravitate toward Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. Even though I'm usually on the conservative side of things, I have a strong distaste for harsh rhetoric those guys specialize in, and I don't take kindly to impugning the motives of people who share party affiliation or general leanings. Moderates have a vital role to play within the Republican party and within Congress. True, some moderates pay more heed to expedience and popularity than to principle, especially those with a reputation for being "mavericks." Rush Limbaugh has often skewered McCain and Hagel for the way they wear that label as a badge of honor, and I agree. Dissenting from party leaders may be a mark of strong character and judgement, but contrary to what many journalists assume, there is nothing inherently virtuous in it. Parties exist for a reason, and they don't survive long if its leaders do not share a strong commitment to winning. Personally, I would be very disappointed if too many of the Senate moderates cave in to political pressure, but I would not engage in recriminations against them. That is the sort of behavior that losing parties indulge in. Rove often talks about reaching out to new groups (such as evangelical Christians) in building a "big tent," but many Republicans seem intent on keeping the "unpure" out of the tent. It makes me worry that back-biting among GOP party factions will help return the Democrats to majority status a lot earlier than most of us expect.
For his part, Sen. Rick Santorum, who owes his career to Christian conservatives, committed a awful rhetorical gaffe today by comparing the Democrats's attitude to the Nazis after they occupied Paris. That's just great.
Interestingly, the National Review came out against the Frist proposal: "Republicans should insist on political accountability for filibusters instead of a rules change." That is essentially the same point I made on April 18. If the same objective can be achieved without the "nuclear option" rules change, so much the better. But in politics as in war, you don't force an enemy to retreat by holding back your assault forces. In a cliffhanger showdown like this, there can be no doubt about the willingness to follow through on the threat.