Senate Republicans Opt for Guerrilla Warfare in Postnuclear Era

The GOP will use targeted attacks rather than all-out war in response to the Democrats' rule change on the filibuster

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid laugh during a ceremony to dedicate the statue of Frederick Douglass in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on June 19, 2013

For years, Republicans have warned that if majority leader Harry Reid were to use the so-called nuclear option by curtailing the use of filibusters in the Senate, all business in the upper chamber of Congress would come to a grinding halt. Reid went nuclear anyway last month, but as the Senate comes back into session next week, Republicans are not expected to immediately shut down Senate proceedings. Instead, they plan a more tactical path of retribution, or as one senior GOP Senate aide put it, “guerrilla warfare.”

The Senate’s rules are designed to force consensus on everything, from the agreement to say the morning prayer to consideration of every piece of legislation. If Republicans truly wanted to, they could object to every motion on the floor, effectively bringing the Senate to a standstill. But such a move might prove as unpopular as the government shutdown did earlier in the fall. The 113th Congress is already well on its way to being the least productive and most disliked of sessions in the record books.

Fortunately for the GOP, the byzantine Senate rules provide many alternatives to outright warfare, says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Of course there will be retaliation,” says Sabato. “The Senate rules encourage it, with so many ways provided for single Senators or small groups to slow down the process. The GOP base expects retaliation, and politicians usually play to their base.”

The coming guerrilla war was a long time in the making. On Nov. 21, just before a two-week Thanksgiving and Hanukkah recess, Reid forced through a vote to override the Senate rules and lower the threshold for approving some nominees from 60 votes to 51 votes. Such a move was first threatened in 2005, when Democrats were blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. Even former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said changing the judicial filibuster rules would be incredibly dangerous as it would effectively blow up the Senate, coining the term “nuclear option.”

During the run-up to last month’s filibuster showdown, Senate Republicans warned that if Democrats changed the rules on nominations, it would be a short leap to change them on every piece of legislation. “Senator Reid is an able and experienced leader,” Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in June. “He knows that if Democrats figure out a way to do anything they want with 51 votes, Republicans can figure that out too. And if we’re in charge, we’ll do it.” Alexander vowed Republicans would repeal Obamacare and the estate tax and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling by simple majority votes when they next take control of the Senate.

That may be a few years yet, which is perhaps why Reid took the gamble to change the rules. “If you look around the country, we’re doing pretty well,” Reid said before the nuclear vote, referring to the 2014 electoral map. “This won’t be much of a story in a week or two,” Reid said of the filibuster fight. Though Republicans should be poised to make gains given a spate of Democratic retirements in swing states, they have had trouble with Tea Party primaries, fundraising, as well as defending a couple of seats, including that of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Most experts do not predict the Senate will flip in 2014, and 2016 is a much improved landscape for Democrats with less vulnerable seats to defend.

Still, there is much Republicans in the minority can do to inflict pain in the more immediate future. The Senate has a heavy schedule between now and the end of the year: Budget Committee negotiators must find a deal to avoid another government shutdown in January, the Farm Bill is still pending, as is the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Not to mention a host of nominations. And while Democrats may have an easier time with floor approval given the new rules, they still have to contend with other obscure procedural provisions, like blue slipping, where home state senators can effectively veto a judicial nominee. All except one of Obama’s pending federal-court nominees hail from states that have at least one Republican Senator. Democrats will have to scramble to figure out where and when Republicans might strike.

So, the world’s greatest deliberative body looks likely to be reduced to a low-grade tactical war. “The end of the filibuster was inevitable — we just didn’t know exactly when it would happen. The filibuster was designed for a Senate that prized consensus,” Sabato says. “That era is long gone, and we’ve moved into an intensely polarized period that is unlikely to end anytime soon.”

39 comments
SpikeLee
SpikeLee

"Still, there is much Republicans in the minority can do to inflict pain in the more immediate future."

Not nearly as much.  It will be easier to pass the bills mentioned without needing 60 votes.  Blue slipping is already happening, so there's nothing new there.

Apparently everything that Republicans can do to inflict pain are things that they are already doing.  That's news.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Republicans are not expected to immediately shut down Senate proceedings. Instead, they plan a more tactical path of retribution, or as one senior GOP Senate aide put it, “guerrilla warfare.”

Are you effing kidding?! Republicans have been filibustering practically every piece of legislation and appointment Democrats have put forward since the President was inaugurated - the first time!  What do you do for a living?

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

The GOP have been waging war on Democrats for years particularly under Pres. Clinton and Pres. Obama whom they formed a cabal from day one to block everything he or democrats attempted to accomplish while deliberately sabotaging job and economic growth in an effort to unseat the Pres. in 2012 but failed.

Notice that the corporate-owned, so-called "liberal" media which thrives on controversy fails to regularly report on the all-time record of congressional productivity, record number of blocked bills at 430+, blocked presidential appointments at 82 or nearly half of all blocked appointments ever, and unprecedented use of 60-vote super majority filibusters to block even bills the American public wants like sensible gun control. The GOP want to nullify the Obama presidency and no other president in US history has had to put up with abuse, hundreds of hearings, wasted political posturing votes and delays as the GOP attempt to run out the clock with the help of their nation-wide GOP, elections-rigging  gerrymandering, voter suppression, and GOP-SCOTUS' democracy-corrupting Citizens United decision that arrived just in time to help the GOP to win the House in 2010 where they immediately shutdown blocking even normally bi-partisan, job-creating bills like the Transportation Bill and the Farm Bill.  

The GOP always abuse their power in office at both the state and federal levels and if they win back the Senate or regain the presidency think they won't use every dirty trick in the book to muscle their way? What is amazing to me is that how the working class, who the GOP have historically NEVER represented, still blindly support the GOP based on ignorance, fear, bigotry, selfishness, and greed though the GOP are responsible for nearly all the problems that working class Americans face today--from a crippling National Debt, less than $800 billion through Carter, an eroded Middle Class, stagnate wages, an bank-deregulated wrecked economy, and nearly all the deaths of US-Coalition soldiers since Vietnam.

Irony
Irony

That's hilarious that they would threaten to bring the senate to a halt.

"Stay back, or I'll shoot the hostage's bullet ridden corpse!"

paulejb
paulejb

Republicans must learn how to selectively inflict pain. Every red state Democrat up for re-election in 2014 should find a roadblock in the way of any of their initiatives. Particularly, any effort on the part of red state Dems to ameliorate ObamaCare must never see the light of day.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

There is some particularly hysterical hand flapping going on in this article. Once heathcare.gov is no longer an albatross (weeks from now), the 'pubs will be quite literally out of things to grouse about. That will sway anyone not of the base, anyway.


Speaking of the base, is it bad that I have legitimately come to hate these people?

jmac
jmac

"Alexander vowed Republicans would repeal Obamacare and the estate tax and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling by simple majority votes when they next take control of the Senate."

No one is going to repeal Obamacare and leave millions of Americans with no insurance and let insurance companies  drop you if you get sick. 

No one.  Republicans are ridiculous.   Let them open up the Arctic Refuge for drilling.   Let them do away with the estate tax - what a joke - you can inherit millions and not pay one red cent right now.    Why not coddle the extremely wealthy even more.  Go for it, Alexander.     


TallusRip
TallusRip

FFS how old are these men, 12?  Grow up already and get some freaking WORK DONE.

MichaelKing
MichaelKing

Tempest in a Teapot - The filibuster is a great distraction from a Congress that isn't doing anything about the stuff we all know needs fixing.  You know that stuff that Tea Party & Berkeley Liberals and everybody in between pretty much agrees on ... like:

Eliminating Oil Company "Subsidies"  Who thinks they need an extra 5-10 billion, paid for by their customers - awesome greed!

Taxing all income at the same rate that blue collar pays (No dividends, cap gains or held interest giveaways)  No more does the person who sweats and labors pay more (%) than the bossman = easy agreement with the 90% of us who actually work.  As far as taxing capital gains, those are generally gambling bets on stock ... gambling gains are taxed 100%, so should speculation gains taxed at 100%.

As far a social security ... why is labor income the only income taxed?  Rental Income, Cap Gains, Held Interest are all exempt ... and always collect, whether needed or not.  Fixing Social Security starts with paying SS Tax on all income (to the limit)

If the Congress could do just these two things ...that are generally agreed on by the vast majority of the electorate ... it would be a start.

But then most of the electorate is distracted with "news de jour" and Walker Cronkite is dead

Matt43
Matt43

I am a moderate who supports the ACA (in fact I don't think it goes far enough and am a supporter of universal health insurance.)  I am absolutely infuriated at the nuclear option and believe this is not an attack on Republicans, but rather an attack on moderates like myself.  Without the filibuster rules, what's to prevent either side from nominating to the extremes of their base?

BobJan
BobJan

If Republicans want to get back in the good graces of the American electorate they should make a concrete (you know what) and sit on it. This will indicate that they are repentant for their past dereliction of duties.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

Alexander vowed Republicans would repeal Obamacare and the estate tax and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling by simple majority votes when they next take control of the Senate.

-

Then Alexander is a moron. The "nuclear option" only ended the filibuster for court nominees, and excludes SCOTUS appointees. Running the Senate entirely by majority would require another, much more destructive, policy change.

jmac
jmac

"Republicans have warned that if Majority Leader Harry Reid were to use the so-called nuclear option by curtailing the use of filibusters in the Senate, all business in the upper chamber of Congress would come to a grinding halt."

Earth to reporters.   All business in the upper chamber was already DOA because it's not about business - it's about trying to take seats in the mid-terms and nothing was ever going to be accomplished before the mid-terms.  Nothing.  No Republican was going to risk being Mike Lee'd - on immigration, on reasonable economic policy (closing loopholes), , on the D.C. Court whose very qualified nominee worked for George Bush and who has argued many a case before the Supreme Court, on n-o-t-h-i-n-g.  

The House just released their schedule for next year and they're only meeting 131 days.   They, too, are going to take the next 12 months off.   Why should they risk a noose around their necks when they can sit back and pray.  


oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Here's what the Republicans can do if they want to get back into the good graces of the American electorate, not to mention actually doing some positive things regarding the challenges we face such as immigration and tax reform. They can tell all those right wing, tin-foil-hat-wearing poseurs who've been running the party to go home and change their diapers. The Republicans can plan "revenge" all they want, but the more they act like self-serving fools, the lower they'll sink in the polls. Time for the exiled moderates to get back in charge and clean up the mess the kids made. Quit playing parliamentary games. Get to work.

Pollopa
Pollopa

The GOP, like moths to a flame.

barneydidit
barneydidit

I know it might sound crazy, but I have to wonder what might happen if Congressional Republicans were to propose bills that DIDN'T have the words "tax cut" or "reduce regulation" in them?  This action could actually allow said Republicans to point to legislative success stories, rather than having to rely on a constant repetition of "NOPE, can't let THIS Democratic bill get through" as proof that they bothered to even leave the house in the morning. 

notsacredh
notsacredh

I love the republican tactics. While they play their petty games, the voters can decide which party is working and which party is just trying to to bring business to a halt.

fitty_three
fitty_three

So the GOP solution is to make things worse instead of better.

Why don't they instead, sit down with Reid and hammer out an agreement that will allow the Dems to bring it up to a vote again and reverse it.

Keep in mind that two Dem Senators, long opposed, finally switched sides on the issue because of the intransigence of the GOP. For both parties, it would be a win/win.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay, especially for pointing out many of the R's proposed tactics. But as the shutdown showed, Congressional support tanked. Do the R's really believe more obstruction is the strategy to taking back the Senate? Doubling down on a losing strategy doesn't appear wise. A natural followup to this post would be: okay, these tactics are what the R's plan to do. Now, how should the D's fight back?

barneydidit
barneydidit

@paulejb Ohhhhh....so close, for a second there I thought you were going to propose that Republicans must learn how to come up with new ideas the citizens of this country could embrace.  Or....even more inconceivable- learn how to compromise with Democrats in order to address the country's current problems.  But "inflict pain" sounds much more like the petulant child response we've grown familiar with from the right side of the aisle. 

tom.litton
tom.litton

@Matt43 The war on moderates was won a long time ago.  That's the problem:  there aren't any moderates left.

 If moderates are to come back we need to fix 2 things:

Gerrymandering

Campaign Finance

If those 2 things aren't fixed, we will continue to fight amongst ourselves until america is dead (or at least democratic america).

bobcn
bobcn

@Matt43 

OK Matt,

Since the gopers have used the filibuster to turn 'advise and consent' into Dems can no longer place judges in empty judicial slots -- what would you do instead of filibuster reform?  The Dems didn't break the filibuster.  The gopers did.

notsacredh
notsacredh

@Matt43, during our entire history before Obama, the filibuster for judicial nominees was used 86 times. The GOP used it in the senate 82 times for Obama's nominees. I don't think think this was anything less than the GOP using blanket filibusters to prevent Obama from getting his turn to nominate judges. A president's lasting legacy is his court appointments. The GOP tried to deny Obama that. The GOP isn't an opposition party anymore, they're anarchists.

jmac
jmac

@Matt43  " Without the filibuster rules, what's to prevent either side from nominating to the extremes of their base?"

Where were you the eight years of Bush?  Do you know nothing of the many extreme judges he got on the bench?   Janice Brown?  Heard of her?    I would object to Ohiolib saying neither party is going to nominate a moderate.   The woman just filibustered for the D.C. Court was as moderate as you can get - she worked for Bush, she's argued over 30 cases to the Supreme Court, she's moderate. 

Which in today's lingo means she's center right.   As is Obama.    


Ohiolib
Ohiolib

@Matt43 This may be news, but neither party is going to nominate a moderate either way. I don't like this option, and I'd like to see the normal rules reinstated after midterms (it won't happen, I know). However, when one group of rabid lunatics decides to hold the government hostage, you're option are limited. 

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@Ohiolib By "control of the Senate" they clearly mean "control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House". Otherwise the vote margin needed for those acts is 67 and dictated by the Constitution, not the Senate rules.

There sure is a whole lot of stupid crammed into that little phrase.


freak4life
freak4life

@Ohiolib 

Really, are you this clueless ? There are no rules when it only takes 51 votes to change any rule. The damage that Reid did to the Senate will be felt long after he is gone. 

Oh I am sorry you are from Ohio, that explains your cluelessness. Never mind.

manlyman
manlyman

@oldwhiteguy The republicans ain't worried about polls. The dems on the other hand... old white guy, dementia is a terrible thing, it creeps up slowly but does so much damage. I hope you've made your preparations, cuz id say yours has entered its final stage.

manlyman
manlyman

@sacredh the voters will decide sac. The asswhooping the dems have coming next november is gonna make 2010 look like a slap on the wrist. I hear you're a betting man, got anything in mind? Your party's working alright, but the people ain't liking the fruits of the labor.

paulejb
paulejb

@barneydidit @paulejb 

There is no compromise with evil, Barney. Democrats are the country's current problem. $17 trillion in debt, $7 trillion of which is Obama's. The destruction of the nation's health care system and the creation of a permanent underclass. That is just plain evil.

jmac
jmac

@freak4life @Ohiolib  Cheney broke a 50/50 senate vote eight times.   George H. W. Bush as V.P. did it seven times.   Al Gore did it four times.   Biden - 0.    Fifteen to four.   

Biden didn't get to break a Senate tie because votes weren't allowed to come to the floor because the filibuster was being so badly abused.      When the cloture vote becomes THE vote, something's wrong in Denmark.  

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

@manlyman @sacredh 

Interesting...I heard the same hubris before the 2012 election.  

GOP motto (with apologies to Mythbusters):  "I reject your reality and substitute my own"

notsacredh
notsacredh

@manlyman, we're looking forward to the elections as much as you are. The right insisted Obama could not be re-elected. What happened?

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

@paulejb @barneydidit paullejb-You do know that the GOP created the bulk of the National Debt. Cite a source for the $7 trillion of debt under President Obama who inherited an economy in free-fall from Bush-Cheney, a DOW at 6,949, 880,000 monthly lost jobs in 1/09 alone. He also inherited a $1.7 TRILLION budget deficit from Bush-Cheney not counting all the unpaid bills from an entire unpaid-for eight-year regime like the GOP Medicare Part D Rx drug giveaway to the drug makers that left a doughnut hole of $2,500 for seniors now covered by the ACA. 

How many jobs have the 12+ year, $2.8 TRILLION Bush tax cuts created while adding to the National Debt or the 20+ years of combined Bush-Cheney wars based upon lies, arrogance, incompetence, and greed from the 435+ GOP-approved war profiteers who wasted hundreds of billions in failed or unnecessary nation-building projects and their failure of our troops with lifetimes of war bills and costly VA healthcare projected to cost $6 TRILLION.

The GOP only become born-again deficit hawks when out of the White House and have done everything possible to block job and economic growth while maintaining the massive hundreds of billions in corporate welfare that never trickles down to the public.

Attend college, serve in the military or serve your country or your God in any way?

barneydidit
barneydidit

@paulejb @barneydidit So you're charging Obama with interest on debt that George W. and Ronald Reagan accrued Paule? Sounds like we need to "cut taxes" and "reduce regulations" again.