Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Democrats Have A Death-Grip On The Senate--Or Do They?

Amidst all the other news of the past week, one item which got surprisingly little press was the "filibuster-proof" supermajority attained by the Democrats in the Senate with the concession of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman to Saturday Night Live comic Al Franken. Maybe even Democrats and their compliant press figured out that it's just not that easy.

The Minnesota Supreme Court finally finished off its dirty work of selectively choosing which election laws it would apply to secure the victory of the foul-mouthed TV and Air America shock comic Franken in the race against incumbent Senator Coleman. After ruling that Franken had received "the highest number of votes legally cast," it declared Franken the candidate who should be certified to the Senate as Minnesota's next Senator. As for "legally cast," since the court itself chose which votes were legal, its conclusion was inevitable given the highly political makeup of the court. The court stuck to "the letter of the law" where convenient, thereby disenfranchising many military absentee ballots. On the other hand, when it came to voting irregularities involving missing and "discovered" ballot boxes and double-counts for Franken, the court ruled that the "spirit of the law" was more important than the letter of the law.

Coleman originally considered a federal appeal, and even though his cause was just, he finally came to realize that when it comes to the application of state election laws, the U. S. Supreme Court will find every way possible to defer to the findings of the state courts. So Coleman personally called Franken to concede the election, giving the Democrats 60 votes in the Senate, enough to invoke cloture (shutting off a filibuster).
To add insult to injury, the court ordered Coleman to pay Franken $75,000 to defray Franken's costs on appeal. Note: "Bush v Gore" was not a divergence from that rule. In the Bush-Gore case, the Florida Supreme Court didn't interpret state elections laws--it rewrote them from the bench.

So, the game is over, right? Not so fast, my friends. "Filibuster-proof" is in the eye of the beholder. If this were a simple matter of mathematics, then the game is indeed over. But that assumes that all Democrats are both safe votes and safe bets, and that simply isn't the case. So it really comes down to "reliable" votes, and those mathematics are not nearly so clear.

Who are the clear and present dangers to Democratic absolutism? To start with, recent convert Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has begun to demonstrate that he can be a pain in the posterior of Democrats as easily as he was a pain for the Republicans. Snarlin' Arlen, as he is affectionately known, has already expressed his displeasure with much of Sonia Sotomayor's jurisprudence.
Specter is miffed that he did not automatically get his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee back when he turned his coat and became a Democrat. He suffers from a very serious case of humility-deficiency, as well as certain physical ailments. And by leaving the Republican Party, he left them with only three wobbly "moderates" (aka "RINOs")--Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio (and he's only good until the end of 2010, since he has announced his retirement). The remainder of the Republicans are very likely to vote against cloture should the opportunity arise.

Given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not known for being a good herder of Democratic cats, he is also facing some grim realities as well. The occasionally senile Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia is a sporadic fan of separation of powers, thus making him an unsure bet on Presidential appointments of less-than-stellar Supreme Court nominees and socialist schemes for the economy. And Byrd is in very poor health, having missed multiple crucial Senate votes over the past year. That makes Byrd an unsure bet on two counts.

Likewise, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts has been in deteriorating health since he had a seizure followed by surgery for brain cancer. He has appeared healthy in public appearances but insiders say he is good at putting on a healthy public front while becoming exhausted to the point of near-collapse in private.

There are Democrats from the Rust Belt who will vote for cloture on some issues but not on others. Rust Belt Democrats are not at all pleased with Obama's cap-and-trade scheme which will cost thousands of jobs in already-depressed states. The goofy new kid, Franken, has expressed serious doubts about the Obama health care bill (he called it "not feasible"). And several moderate Southern Democrats have expressed reservations about Sonia Sotomayor's statements about the law, race and legal precedent combined with her recent slapdowns from the Supreme Court.

Republicans will have to be very cautious in considering attempted filibusters. If they try too often and lose, they will appear to be weak and merely silly obstructionists. If they don't use them at all when the entire future of the Republic is at stake (cap-and-trade, Obamacare, the next two Supreme Court nominees), they risk looking unserious and cowardly. But given the shakiness of the Democratic cloture coalition, they can never simply ignore the possible use of the filibuster. All they have to do now is convince John McCain that he has been relegated to the back bench, and if he ever wants to be prominent in the Party again, he needs to stay out of power-broking with the Democrats who don't honor their commitments.

17 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, we'll see how this works. Unfortunately, with the three weak Republicans and the one extra seat, I think it's actually going to prove a lot easier for them to block filibusters than most people think.

The good news is that there seems to be a war erupting in the House between the "moderates" and the rest of them. This has already warped the Obamacare bill enough to require a significant update to the report card once final details start to emerge.

Writer X said...

I can't look at Al Franken without seeing Stuart Smiley. Hopefully Minnesotans will wise up by the next election and send him packing in a landslide.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: This will be a good test of the Senate Republican leaders and whether they have any ability whatsoever to impose "party discipline." And that is also a reason for them to be ultra-cautious in choosing their battles. I'm not jumping for joy by any means, but there is (dare I say it?) hope. In addition, Democrats who were elected in 2006 or 2008 because they were more conservative than their Republican opponents are beginning to realize that Obama's far left agenda will not serve them well in the next election. The situation is bad, but not impossible.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: I wonder how many people know that the gap-toothed Senator from Minnesota is a Harvard graduate (BA in government, no less). I see a pattern: Franken--Harvard. Obama--Harvard Law. Gore--Harvard (also BA in government). Ted Kennedy--Harvard (although someone else took his exams for him). Granny Carl Levin--Harvard. Chuck Schumer--Harvard. War hero John Kerry--Harvard. I think somebody needs to check the water supply in Worcester County. I am proud to announce that not a single Senator attended my much-maligned U C Berkeley.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I've been cautiously optimistic lately. In addition to the possible unwillingness of more "moderate" congressmen and senators to rubber stamp Obama's agenda, they may also find themselves under increased public pressure. For example, there's a coordinated nationwide event this Friday to protest Obamacare outside the offices of all senators and congressmen. We'll see if this gets any attention.

Also, do the Democrats really want to own Obama's agenda? Because they will own it if they support it and it all falls apart. They won't be able to blame Bush for much longer.

LawHawkSF said...

Pittsburgh: I think that cautious optimism is a good approach. And we're always glad to see that citizen-generated protests are alive and well. You're also correct in your analysis that Democrats (particularly mid-West and South) are getting seriously concerned that they will be tagged with the Obama socialist label. Things are not great after Franken's election, but they're a long way from impossible to work with. I'm not too optimistic about them giving up on blaming Bush. They're still blaming Reagan!

Writer X said...

LawHawk, okay my opinion of Harvard just sunk below sea level. If they take Schumer, they'll take anyone.

StanH said...

The good news …with a supermajority come complete responsibility bigger targets to hit in 2010. If the Republicans will put forth true conservatives, I think 2010 will be a good year for the right, “1994?”

CrisD said...

I have to be honest (and I have been thinking about this the other day since red pill/blue pill post and not-pick-candidate post.)
What are the ideas and issues we can put forth. It was a very depressing...prayer.
We are a sea in triumphant leftist who do not recognize the danger of losing our liberty ( and $!!) to causes that will fail people.
I hate to be a bummer-really-but I am pretty down when I get serious.

AndrewPrice said...

StanH, I think you're right. The Republicans have a very good opportunity. BUT they need to put forward real ideas, they can't just rely on Obama angering the voters.

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, That's part of what we're hoping to do with the Rebuilding the Republican Party series -- outline a list of issues that the Republicans can champion.

Over the next couple months, we're going to talk about education reform, economic/tax reform, sound environmental policy, protecting individual freedoms/civil liberties, guaranteeing free and fair elections, reforming government, etc., and (very soon) health care reform.

Stick with us and see if you're as bummed out when we're done. And if you like what we lay out, then start calling Republican politicians and tell them to come read what we're saying. :-)

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: Even now, many Democrats are wondering what they were thinking putting up this clever, economy-destroying fool for the nation's highest office. With the supermajority in the Senate, they must now put up or shut up. Without the excuse that "the Republicans stopped us," they will have to take ownership of anything they do from here one out. I don't think they're brave enough. But it will take resolute Republicans with genuine conservative principles to lead the way. This is likely the beginning of when we will start to see leaders emerge. If ever there was a time, this is it.

LawHawkSF said...

CrisD: I've lived long enough to see some pretty bad times in this great country of ours. I am no Pollyanna, but I have enough faith in the American people to believe that they will wake from their government drug-induced coma to take affairs back into their own hands. In 1992, the MSM declared the Republican Party dead and the conservative movement in its death throes. Two years later, Republicans took over both houses of Congress. When conservatives surrendered their leadership position to accommodationist moderates and "big government" conservatives, we lost our way--but not forever. As John Paul Jones said "we've only just begun to fight."

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: I can't share your sinking opinion of Harvard, since my opinion was already as low as it can get. I can look back fondly on my days in court. If I found out that my opponent was a Harvard law grad, I knew it was going to be an easy victory. I'd just set the trap, and let them hang themselves by their own crimson ties. Unfortunately, most of them figured out what lousy lawyers they were, so they went into politics where the bar is set much lower--in fact, you really don't have to know anything except how to keep getting re-elected.

Anonymous said...

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Di Butler

thebutlerdidit

AndrewPrice said...

Butler, welcome! I'm glad you found us! :-)

LawHawkSF said...

Di: We've really enjoyed your posts at Big Hollywood, and are very happy to see you've found us here. It's like having an old friend join us. By all means, sign up ASAP and keep us on our toes. At long last we'll actually get to find out if the butler did it (we require a confession as part of your commentarama signup process). LOL

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