What were those GOP Senators really afraid of?
According to Alec MacGillis, themelves:
It may seem puzzling at first why the Republicans would’ve given in on most of the nominees in exchange for naught but a face-saving swap of pro-labor faces on the NLRB. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to have emerged from his strikingly persuasive brinksmanship with even the right to continue to press further for filibuster rules changes down the line. What gives? Why weren’t Republicans more willing to let him go nuclear? Doing so would’ve allowed them to glory in the moral high ground and, once they won back the Senate as seems quite possible in the next few years, seek righteous revenge by breaking the filibuster for purposes far more consequential than confirming nominees to a few second-tier departments.
Others have already noted one reason for Republicans to pull back from this outcome: they could already undo plenty of the Obama legacy with a mere 51 votes—via the budget reconciliation process, which could, for one thing, do grave damage to Obamacare. But I would suggest another theory: that Republicans pulled back, in part, precisely because of the likelihood of how things would play out in the full post-filibuster revenge scenario. Here is Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican now considered among his caucus’s more reasonable voices, laying out the threat for reporters yesterday:
What’s at stake here is not just a change of the rule, it’s the way the rule is being changed. What it means is that with 51 votes, any majority can do anything it wants on any day in the United States Senate. It can change abortion rights. It can change civil rights. It can change environmental laws. It can change labor laws. Today, the House can do that, and when it comes to the Senate, we stop and think and consider. But after this, whoever has the majority can do anything it wants, on any day. That is a dangerous trend.
Got that? The Republican threat of what the party would do if the filibuster were to crumble is a list of things that a veteran Republican senator himself frames as being way-out-there and part of a “dangerous trend.” If the filibuster falls away, Alexander is saying, my own party will undermine abortion rights (which are, at the most basic level, supported by a majority of Americans). It will “change environmental laws”—who knows which ones, maybe even Republican-signed, widely accepted ones like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act? It’ll even “change civil rights,” whatever that means—since the Voting Rights Act has already been severely weakened by the Supreme Court, what’s left to be “changed”? The Civil Rights Act itself, and the tyranny, lamented not long ago by the senator from the state bordering Alexander’s Tennessee, of forcing businesses to serve people of all colors?
I don’t mean to mock Alexander, but rather to praise him for his candor. Implicit in his argument is that this agenda would not be a very popular one.
Alexander may have just been using those examples to try to sound nice and bipartisan. But it's a very odd way for him to do it. I'm with MacGillis. He inadvertantly spoke the truth. What these Senators understand is that without the threat of the filibuster, a GOP Senate would:
charge forward with [their suicidal agenda] anyway, unbounded by the threat of a filibuster, regardless of the lasting toll it would pay at the polls.
In other words it would be just like the House GOP. Except you can't gerrymander Senate seats.