Patterico's Pontifications


Shot, Chaser: The New York Times on the Filibuster

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:29 am

Yesterday, I had occasion to revisit a post of mine from 2017, documenting the shifting stance of the New York Times on the filibuster. As I note, my post was occasioned by an op-ed piece and not an editorial, but the post documents a very consistent history of editorial flip-flopping on the issue . . . according to which party held the Oval Office (usually the same party as the Senate, when the issue of the filibuster merited an editorial). I’ll just quote my entire 2017 post in full as the shot, and then I’ll follow it with the chaser.


The New York Times, facing a Republican Senate and President, today prints a shock op-ed piece arguing that the filibuster is a venerable tool that should not be discarded. (Yes, I’m joking about it being shocking.) The piece is titled Why Republicans Shouldn’t Weaken the Filibuster:

The Senate has historically been the one place in our government where legislative minorities are protected, with rules to check overzealous majorities.

The twin pillars of the body’s uniqueness are unlimited debate and unfettered amendments. The minority can almost always have some influence on legislative outcomes. This has often made the Senate the cradle of compromise.

. . . .

It’s important to keep the filibuster. With it, presidents must try to win the minority’s support for nominees. This has helped to keep nominations in the judicial mainstream.

But wait. Wasn’t it Harry Reid who changed the filibuster rule for nominees? You might have thought that, but let the op-ed writer mansplain it for you:

It is often written that the Senate “changed” the filibuster rule. It did nothing of the sort. Democrats voted to interpret the words “three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn” to mean a simple majority.

(Go ahead and read that paragraph again, as many times as you need to, for it to make sense. I’ll wait right here.)

They didn’t change the rule, you see. They merely interpreted it to mean something other than what it says.

It’s a lovely little piece of pro-filibuster rhetoric. Filibuster good! Go, compromise! Hooray, deliberation! Down with “overzealous majorities”!

I wondered: where is the impassioned attack on the filibuster in the pages of the New York Times? You might be surprised to learn that you can find one. All you have to do is turn back the clock to November 21, 2013, when there was a Democrat Senate and a Democrat President. At that time, the official position of the New York Times was: nuke that filibuster!

For five years, Senate Republicans have refused to allow confirmation votes on dozens of perfectly qualified candidates nominated by President Obama for government positions. They tried to nullify entire federal agencies by denying them leaders. They abused Senate rules past the point of tolerance or responsibility. And so they were left enraged and threatening revenge on Thursday when a majority did the only logical thing and stripped away their power to block the president’s nominees.

In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments. From now on, if any senator tries to filibuster a presidential nominee, that filibuster can be stopped with a simple majority, not the 60-vote requirement of the past. That means a return to the democratic process of giving nominees an up-or-down vote, allowing them to be either confirmed or rejected by a simple majority.

. . . .

Republicans warned that the rule change could haunt the Democrats if they lose the White House and the Senate. But the Constitution gives presidents the right to nominate top officials in their administration and name judges, and says nothing about the ability of a Senate minority to stop them. (The practice barely existed before the 1970s.)

Filibuster bad! Yay up-or-down vote! Hooray for democracy! Down with obstructionism!

For further hypocrisy, let’s dig even deeper into the past. Let’s consult The New York Times editorial board on May 18, 2005, editorializing against the judicial filibuster, at a time when we had a Republican President and Senate majority:

Of all the hollow arguments Senate Republicans have made in their attempt to scrap the opposition’s right to have a say on President Bush’s judicial nominees, the one that’s most hypocritical insists that history is on their side in demanding a “simple up-or-down vote” on the Senate floor. Republicans and Democrats have used a variety of tactics, from filibuster threats to stealthy committee inaction on individual nominations, in blocking hundreds of presidential appointments across history, including about one in five Supreme Court nominees. This is all part of the Senate’s time-honored deliberative role and of its protection of minority rights, which Republican leaders would now desecrate in overreaching from their majority perch.

. . . .

Democrats have hardly been obstructionists in their constitutional role of giving advice and consent; they have confirmed more than 200 Bush nominees, while balking at a mere seven who should be blocked on the merits, not for partisan reasons. This is a worthy fight, and the filibuster is a necessary weapon, considering that these are lifetime appointments to the powerful appellate judiciary, just below the Supreme Court. In more than two centuries, only 11 federal judges have been impeached for abusive court behavior. Clearly, uninhibited Senate debate in the deliberative stage, with the minority’s voice preserved, is a crucial requirement.

. . . .

A few moderate senators from both parties – realizing that the Senate’s prestige is at stake, as much as its history – are seeking a compromise. We hope President Bush will step in to help find a solution. Otherwise, warns his fellow Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the result will be the harmful crimping of minority rights in a proud deliberative body and “a dark, protracted era of divisive partisanship.”

Filibuster good! Go, compromise! Hooray, deliberation! Down with “overzealous majorities”!

And now, for the cherry on top of this hypocrisy sundae. When another Democrat was president, in 1995, they felt the same way they did when Obama was President:

Once a rarely used tactic reserved for issues on which senators held passionate convictions, the filibuster has become the tool of the sore loser, dooming any measure that cannot command the 60 required votes. . . . Now is the perfect moment for them to unite with like-minded Democrats to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.

Filibuster bad! Yay up-or-down vote! Hooray for democracy! Down with obstructionism!

You could get whiplash trying to follow the way they careen back and forth between positions — unless you kept their actual principle in mind: we support whatever helps Democrats. Then their positions become very easy to follow.

To be fair, today’s piece is an op-ed, not an editorial. But there is a reason that they solicited an op-ed piece from “a co-author of’“Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate.’” That reason probably isn’t because they just like to air all possible positions. The reason just might have something to do with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

I bet the traditional flip-flop of the official house position of the editorial board will be coming soon in an editorial, likely in the next couple of months.

If they had any shame, they wouldn’t even consider it. But if you think they have shame, you may want to re-read this post.

I know, it’s a hefty shot, and it demands a hell of a chaser.

So I looked up whether the New York Times had taken a position on this issue this year. I was asleep at the switch when they did, in March, but you’ll never guess what they said!!!1!

Just kidding; you guessed.


For Democracy to Stay, the Filibuster Must Go

. . . .

In the upper chamber, a supermajority of 60 votes is required to pass even the most middling piece of legislation. That requirement is not found in the Constitution; it’s because of the filibuster, a centuries-old parliamentary tool that has been transformed into a weapon for strangling functional government.

This is a singular moment for American democracy, if Democrats are willing to seize it. Whatever grand principles have been used to sustain the filibuster over the years, it is clear as a matter of history, theory and practice that it vindicates none of them. If America is to be governed competently and fairly — if it is to be governed at all — the filibuster must go.

They are nothing if not consistent: we support whatever helps the Democrat.

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