The way things stand right now, the United States Senate is a bloated obstructionist chamber more adept at preventing the passage of legislation than facilitating it. In no small part, this is the inevitable outcome for a body which, by design, necessitates a particularly high threshold for action, and a lopsidedly — but not exclusively — conservative enterprise to exploit that selfsame threshold for overtly partisan gains.
It’s understandable, then, that Democrats have belatedly begun to realize that if they want to accomplish, well, pretty much anything, they’re going to need to use their limited time in both congressional and executive branch power to actually change the rules of the Senate — that is, if it’s not already too late. It’s equally understandable, then, that Republicans under Mitch McConnell — a man who has perhaps more than anyone successfully gamed the Senate rules for his party’s own benefit — are suddenly chafing at the mere suggestion of some sort of inherent flaw in their oh-so-precious institution.
Which brings me to Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a person whose entire vibe is that of a man who gingerly sips a glass of lukewarm tap water and then exclaims, “Whoa nelly!” out loud to an empty room.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden finally endorsed the Democrats’ effort to change the filibuster rules in order to pass a voting rights measure designed to address the GOP’s longstanding electoral manipulation — and that same day, Romney delivered a speech on the Senate floor railing against said effort. As he warned ominously:
Consider how different the Senate would be without the filibuster. Whenever one party replaced the other as majority, tax and spending priorities would change, safety net programs would change, national security policy could change.
Heavens no! Consider how different the Senate would be if... lawmakers were elected, and then able to, uh, make laws? Simply horrifying! How dare Democrats remove a wholly parliamentary barrier to actual legislation, if it would actually mean people might expect their votes to result in action. Oh no no no, this cannot stand!
What’s more, he prophesied, “There is also a reasonable chance Republicans will win both houses in Congress, and that Donald Trump himself could once again be elected president in 2024.”
“Have Democrats thought what it would mean for them, for the Democrat minority, to have no power whatsoever?” he asked, presumably rhetorically, considering how utterly powerless the Democratic minority was during the first two years of the Trump administration. But, okay, sure, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that he sincerely cares about what would happen to Democrats if/when they find themselves in the minority again (he doesn’t). I’m fairly certain that, yes, they have indeed thought about the seismic implications of changing the Senate rules. That’s probably why more and more of them want to do it.
Romney’s speech, cloaked in the dignified language of America’s legacy of empowering the minority, is notable for both its utter detachment from our current political reality and its accidental acknowledgement that the very rule he has placed way up on that pedestal is fundamentally an obstruction to actual legislation. If only more people in politics were that honest, whether they intended to be, or not.