Could’ve Would’ve Should’ve…. That was Harry Reid not too long ago, talking about his stupid decision to go along with a “gentleman’s agreement” on changing the way the filibuster would be used at the start of the 112th Congress, two years ago.
“If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight,” Reid said on the floor. “These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn’t. They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us, anyway. What a shame.”
Reid added: “If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules, because it’s been abused, abused, abused.”
Reid’s comments came after he tried to quickly pass a House-passed bill aimed at reauthorizing the Export-Import bank. Republicans objected, asking for votes on five of their amendments. Reid filed a cloture motion, setting up a test vote for Monday evening to begin debate on the measure.
It takes 60 votes — and time-consuming cloture motions — to overcome a filibuster, a tool that has been employed with growing frequency by both parties over the years.
Of course, changing the filibuster rules would be enormously difficult to accomplish, given that it takes two-thirds of senators to do so.
Udall and Merkley were calling for the rules to be changed through a circuitous process by 51 votes, a move they called the “constitutional option” but that critics dubbed the “nuclear option.”
Instead, Reid and McConnell agreed to a series of small rules changes and a general agreement to make the Senate more efficient without changing the filibuster.
The January 2011 handshake agreement didn’t last very long.
Last October, Reid employed the 51-vote maneuver to make a narrow change in Senate rules, a highly unusual move that enraged Republicans and could open the door to similar efforts in the future over the filibuster. Senior senators from both parties fear that changing the filibuster could allow the majority party to run roughshod over the minority and forever change the institution.
This time, he had a chance for a do-over and to get it right! But all indications are that he’s going to fuck up again.
Through procedural machinations, Reid has prolonged the first day of this session of the Senate, so he can still use that constitutional option to change the senate rules with a simple majority vote. But with each passing hour, that prospect appeared less and less likely.
And just minutes after the end of my show, this headline appeared at Huffington Post:
Progressive senators working to dramatically alter Senate rules were defeated on Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), set to announce a series of compromise reforms on the Senate floor that fall far short of the demands. The language of the deal was obtained by HuffPost and can be read here and here.
The deal would address the filibuster on the motion to proceed, which had regularly prevented the Senate from even considering legislation and was a major frustration for Reid. It would also make it easier for the majority to appoint conferees once a bill has passed, but leaves in place the minority’s ability to filibuster that motion once — meaning that even after the Senate and House have passed a bill, the minority can still mount a filibuster one more time.
Reid won concessions on judicial nominations as well. Under the old rules, after a filibuster had been beaten, 30 more hours were required to pass before a nominee could finally be confirmed. That delay threatened to tie the chamber in knots. The new rules will only allow two hours to pass after cloture is invoked before a nominee is confirmed.
The two leaders also agreed that they will make some changes in how the Senate carries out filibusters under the existing rules, reminiscent of the handshake agreement last term, which quickly fell apart. First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.
The arrangement between Reid and McConnell means that the majority leader will not resort to his controversial threat, known as the “nuclear option,” to change the rules via 51 votes on the first day of the congressional session. Reid may have been able to achieve greater reforms that way, but several members of his own party were uncomfortable with the precedent it would have set. And Reid himself, an institutionalist, wanted a bipartisan deal for the long-term health of the institution. Reid presented McConnell with two offers — one bipartisan accord consisting of weaker reforms, and a stronger package Reid was willing to ram through on a partisan vote. McConnell chose the bipartisan route.
Supporters of the deal insist that, even without using the “nuclear option,” Reid was able to secure tangible changes on the pace and conduct of Senate business.
So, I guess we try again in two more years as I have no illusions that this deal will fix anything.
On the show today, Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel.net) joined in to talk about yesterday’s hearings on the Hill with Hillary Clinton about the GOP-made up controversy over the Benghazi consulate attack, and today’s Senate confirmation hearings for John Kerry as Secretary of State.
We ran out of time, but I did bring her up her reaction to yesterday’s announcement of Lanny Breuer resignation from his post as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the US DoJ.
She wrote in that post that the resignation came after Frontline’s excellent show – this one called “The Untouchables”
exposing how derelict DOJ has been in not prosecuting any of the banksters who ruined the economy. It could have been far, far worse, as it dealt solely with the securitization crimes that were ignored. Nevertheless, it showed Lanny Breuer to be an arrogant jerk who insisted DOJ couldn’t prosecute, in spite of the abundant evidence of crime presented in the show.
David and I just watched it last night, and you should too! Click on the link above, or watch via this embed, but watch:
This week Israel had their national elections. It was expected that Netanyahu would make big gains and that the nation would take an even harder right turn. That was not the case. Uri Avnery wrote a column that was hopeful and a bit celebratory. I read the whole thing on the show. It won’t be published for two more days, so here’s your preview:
A Move to the Center
IT WAS the night of the optimists.
Tuesday at 10.01 pm, a minute after the ballot boxes were sealed, the three TV news programs announced the results of their exit polls.
The dire predictions of the pessimists were scattered to the winds.
Israel has not gone crazy.
It has not moved to the right. The fascists have not taken over the Knesset. Binyamin Netanyahu has not been strengthened. Far from it.
Israel has moved to the center.
It was not a historic turning moment, like the takeover of Menachem Begin in 1977, after two generations of Labor Party rule. But it was a significant change.
All this after an election campaign without content, without excitement, without any discernible emotion.
On election day, which is an official holiday, I repeatedly looked out of my window, above one of Tel Aviv’s main streets. There was not the slightest indication that anything special was going on. In previous elections, the street was crowded with taxis and private cars covered with party posters, carrying voters to the polling stations. This time I did not see a single one.
In the polling station, I was alone. But the beach was crowded. People had taken their dogs and children to play in the sand under the brilliant winter sun, sailing boats dotted the blue sea. Hundreds of thousands drove to the Galilee or the Negev. Many had hired a Zimmer (curiously we use the German word for a bed-and-breakfast room).
But by the end of the day, almost 67% of Israelis had voted – more than last time. Even the Arab citizens, most of whom did not vote during the day, suddenly awoke and thronged the ballot stations during the last two hours – after the Arab parties cooperated in a massive action to get the voters out.
WHEN THE exit polls were published, the leaders of half a dozen parties, including Netanyahu, hastened to make victory speeches. A few hours later, most of them, Netanyahu included, looked silly. The real results changed the picture only slightly, but enough for some to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The great loser of the election is Binyamin Netanyahu. At the last moment before the start of the campaign he united his list with that of Avigdor Lieberman. That made him seemingly invincible. No one doubted that he would win, and win big. Experts gave him 45 seats, up from the 42 the two lists had in the outgoing Knesset.
That would have put him in a position where he could pick coalition partners (or, rather, coalition servants) at will.
He ended up with a mere 31 seats – losing a quarter of his strength. It was a slap in the face. His main election slogan was “A strong leader, A strong Israel”. Strong no more. He will still become Prime Minister again, but as a shadow of his former self. Politically he is near his end.
What remains of his faction makes up a quarter of the next Knesset. That means that he will be a minority in any coalition he may be able to put together (which needs 61 members at least). If Lieberman’s people are deducted from the number, Likud proper has just 20 seats, only one more than the real victor of this election.
THE REAL VICTOR is Ya’ir Lapid, who amazed everyone, especially himself (and me), with an astounding 19 seats. That makes his the second largest faction in the Knesset, after Likud-Beitenu.
How did he do it? Well, he has the handsome, youthful look and body language of a TV anchorman, which indeed he was for many years. Everyone knows his face. His message consisted of platitudes, which upset no one. Though now almost 50 years old, he was the candidate of the young.
His victory is part of a generational change. Like Naftali Bennett on the right, he attracted young people who are fed up with the old system, the old parties, the old, hackneyed slogans. They were not looking for a new ideology, but for a new face. Lapid’s was the most handsome face around.
But it cannot be overlooked that Lapid in the center beat his nearest competitor for young votes – Bennett on the right. While Lapid did not propagate any ideology, Bennett did everything possible to disguise his. He went to Tel Aviv’s pubs, presented himself as everyman’s (and everywoman’s) good guy, wooed secular, liberal youngsters.
Throughout the campaign, Bennett appeared to be the rising star on the political firmament, the great surprise of this election, the symbol of Israel’s fatal move to the right.
There was another similarity between the two: both worked hard. While the other parties relied mostly on TV to carry their message, Lapid “plowed” the country all through last year, building an organization, talking to people, attracting groups of faithful followers. So did Bennett.
But in the end, when a young person had to choose between the two, he or she could not overlook the fact that Lapid belonged to a democratic, liberal Israel and was committed to the two-state peace solution, while Bennett was an extreme advocate of the settlers and of Greater Israel, an enemy of the Arabs and of the Supreme Court.
The verdict of the young was unequivocal: 19 for Lapid, only 12 for Bennett.
THE GREATEST disappointment was in store for Shelly Yachimovich. She was absolutely certain that her rejuvenated Labor Party would become the second largest faction in the Knesset. She even presented herself as a possible replacement for Netanyahu.
Both she and Lapid profited from the huge social protest of the summer of 2011, which pushed war and the occupation off the agenda. Even Netanyahu did not dare to bring up the attack on Iran and the extension of the settlements. But in the end, Lapid profited more than Shelly.
It appears that Shelly’s single-minded concentration on social justice was a mistake. If she had combined her social platform with Tzipi Livni’s peace negotiation agenda, she might well have fulfilled her ambition and formed the second-largest faction.
Tzipi’s defeat – just 6 seats – was pitiable. She joined the fray only two months ago, after a lot of hesitation, which seems to be her trademark. Her single-minded concentration on the “political arrangement” with the Palestinians – not “peace”, God forbid – ran against the trend.
People who really want peace voted (like me) for Meretz, who can boast a resounding achievement, doubling their strength from 3 to 6. That is also a striking feature of this election.
It appears also that quite a number of Jews gave their vote to the mainly-Arab communist Hadash party, which was also strengthened.
THE WHOLE thing boils down to two numbers: 61 for the Right-Religious bloc, 59 for the Center-Left-Arab bloc. One single member could have made all the difference. The Arab citizens could have easily provided that member.
I noticed that all three TV stations sent their teams to the headquarters of every single Jewish party, including those who did not surmount the 2% hurdle (like, thank God, the religious-fascist Kahanist list) but not to any of the three Arab parties.
By tacit agreement, the Arabs were treated as not really belonging. The Left (or “Center-Left, as they preferred to be called) relegated them to membership in the “Blocking-Bloc”, those who could block Netanyahu’s ability to form a coalition. The Arabs themselves were not consulted.
Lapid disposed of the “blocking bloc” rapidly. He made short shrift of the idea that he could be in the same bloc with Hanin Zuabi (or with any Arab party, for that matter.) He also squashed the idea that he had ambitions to be Prime Minister. He was not prepared for such an advance, having no political experience at all.
EVEN THOUGH the “blocking bloc” will not materialize, it will be very difficult for Netanyahu to form a coalition.
The prospect of a purely right-wing coalition has disappeared. It is impossible to govern with just 61 seats”, (Though Netanyahu could initially try to form such a small coalition, hoping to add more factions later.) He will need Lapid, who would become a central figure in the government. Indeed, Netanyahu called him an hour after the ballots closed.
In any case, Netanyahu will need one or more of the center parties, making the next government much less dangerous.
WHAT IS the lesson of this election?
The right-religious bloc lost the election, but the “center-left” did not win it, because they could not put forward a credible candidate for prime minister, nor a credible alternative governing party with a solid, comprehensive blueprint for the solution of Israel’s basic problems.
To create such a new force, it is absolutely vital to integrate the Arab citizens in the political process as full-fledged partners. By keeping the Arabs out, the Left is castrating itself. A new Jewish-Arab left, a community of outlook, political language and interests, must be created – and this act of creation must start right now.
The battle for Israel is not lost. Israel’s “move to the right” has been blocked and is far from inevitable. We Israelis are not as crazy as we look.
This battle has ended in a draw. The next round can be won. It depends on us.
Although I thought this was great news, my enthusiasm wasn’t shared by Maysoon Zayid, who joins me for the last half-hour of the show every Thursday morning. It was certainly a spirited disagreement, but I learned why Maysoon wants a one state solution. But it wasn’t all serious – we talked sex and soap operas too..