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Nihilistic Bipartisanship

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Speaking of kayfabe, Michelle Goldberg is good on Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema pretending to believe that Republicans will suddenly begin embracing bipartisan comity while Republicans continue on their very real quest to dismantle American democracy without even disguising what they’re doing:

On Tuesday, Sinema, touring migrant facilities with her Texas Republican colleague John Cornyn, defended the filibuster by spouting an alternative history nearly as delusional as Trump’s claims to have actually won the election. “The idea of the filibuster was created by those who came before us in the United States Senate to create comity and to encourage senators to find bipartisanship and work together,” she said.

This is nonsense. The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it.

More than any other type of legislation, the filibuster was used in the 20th century to derail civil rights bills, from anti-lynching measures to bans on housing discrimination. During Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans began using it to an unprecedented degree to block his nominations. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, “Out of the 168 cloture motions ever filed (or reconsidered) on nominations, 82 (49 percent) were cloture motions on nominations made since 2009.” The filibuster’s history is both ignominious and ever-changing.

It is impossible to know whether Sinema believes what she said, or whether she simply doesn’t care. Both she and Manchin are committed to bipartisanship as a supreme good, which in practice means bowing to the wishes of a party that doesn’t believe Joe Biden is a legitimate president and wants above all to see him fail. (“One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said last month.)

When you have a system that’s not working effectively, said Sinema, “the way to fix that is to change your behavior,” not the rules. This is a bizarre stance for a legislator, whose work is all about changing rules. But it also ignores the fact that the system is working perfectly well for Republicans.

Democrats hope that Manchin, who has said Democrats should have faith that there are “10 good people” in the Republican caucus, will lessen his opposition to filibuster reform when Senate Republicans repeatedly prove him wrong. It’s harder to know what Sinema actually believes and thus what could sway her; she seems above all dedicated to a view of herself as a quirky maverick, and delights in trolling the Democrats who elected her. In April, after infuriating progressives by voting against including a federal minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package, she posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing a ring spelling out a dismissive obscene phrase that begins with “F” and ends with “off.”

This gap between the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair.

Of course, the broader issue here is that pretty much everything about the Senate is ridiculous; with a well-designed set of legislative institutions nobody would have to give a shit what these attention-desperate narcissists thought about anything.

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