The Filibuster, the “Nuclear Option,” and a (New, Old) Thermonuclear Option

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The filibuster has been much in the news lately, either as the barrier to Democrats over-riding the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, or as a barrier to other putative agenda items where Democrats could (notionally) get a simple majority, but not the supermajority of 60 needed to end a filibuster: packing the court, a Green New Deal, etc. Here President Biden gives nominal support to ending the filibuster:

Unsurprisingly, however, Biden declared himself impotent two days later:

Biden may be, of course, genuinely impotent just now: Senator Leahy is out of commission with a broken hip. Then too as always President Manchin and Kristen Simena would need to be brought on board. One sighs for the days when Presidents knew how to muscle the Senate:

We should, of course, not forget that the Democrat Party did not become what it is through a random process. As I wrote:

The Democrat Party was constructed. It is the way that it is because that’s how its leadership wants it. It’s more auto-kinbaku-bi; the Democrat jouissance from tying themselves up, and rendering themselves helpless (filibuster; Parliamentarian; moderates). It’s not merely pragmatic; I swear they actually get a thrill, a guilty pleasure, out of it.

When you read the section on the Senate rules, you will see a fine example of auto-kinbaku-bi, albeit a bipartisan one. With that I will leave the politics of the day behind.

* * *

Back in 2012, I wrote a post on the filibuster: “The Obama Enabler’s Big Lie: “We Never Had the Votes,” meaning the 60 votes needed to pass a cloture motion and end a filibuster. I showed there were two ways to get the votes by removing the 60 vote supermajority and replacing it with a simple majority: during a session, using tricky procedural maneuvering (“the nuclear option”), or at the start of a session, when the Senate bootstraps itself (“the Constitutional option”)

That conclusion still holds, but I wish to go the same ground in more detail. First, I will go through actual sources on Senate procedure, hoisted from a long comment inspired by a question from alert reader Fraibert, (These procedures are complicated — the Bourbons of Louis XVI’s day would would loved them — and I hope I’ve gotten them right. No doubt there is an expert on Senatorial arcana in the leadership who will correct me.) I will also point out where “the nuclear option” has been used, and could be again, were there the political will. Next, I will go through the reasons that some conservatives give for leaving the Senate, as a deliberative body, as it is. Finally, I will introduce the concept of “entrenchment,” an obscure tactic I’ve dubbed the “thermonuclear option,” which would assault the Senate’s very sense of itself as a “continuing body.” I’ll conclude with a brief remark on the politics of the current situation.

Senate Rules on the Filibuster

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the Senate does indeed have standing rules:

The legislative process on the Senate floor is governed by a set of standing rules, a body of precedents created by rulings of presiding officers or by votes of the Senate, a variety of established and customary practices, and ad hoc arrangements the Senate makes to meet specific parliamentary and political circumstances. A knowledge of the Senate’s formal rules is not sufficient to understand Senate procedure, and Senate practices cannot be understood without knowing the rules to which the practices relate.

So, arcane. Nevertheless, when a new Congress begins:

The Senate follows a well-established routine on the opening day of a new Congress. The proceedings include… adopting administrative resolutions, adopting standing orders for the new Congress….

In other words, the standing rules don’t simply carry over, as if they were defaults (see also Senator Byrd below at “dead hand”). They must be explicitly adopted at the start of a session. (I would speculate that’s one reason why the Manual of the Senate is often updated..)

There are, then, two occasions on which the filibuster might be altered or abolished. (In what follows, in quoting Senate rules, I will cite to the “Senate Manual” from the 116th Congress (2019 – 2020), found here).

(1) When a Senate session begins, by majority vote> (the “Constitutional Option”). From a history of the filibuster by the Congressional Research Service:

The Senate, exclaimed Senator Byrd, no longer had an effective Rule XXII [the filibuster rule]. He set about to revise Senate procedures on the opening day of the 96th Congress (1979-1980).

On January 15, Senator Byrd introduced a resolution, S. Res. 9, that proposed general reforms (e.g., the installation of an electronic voting system in the chamber), as well as others focused on post-cloture procedures. However, many Republican Senators believed that the changes proposed by Senator Byrd would reduce the role of the minority in the legislative process. To promote bipartisan collaboration and compromise, the two party leaders (Byrd and GOP leader Howard Baker of Tennessee) created an ad hoc committee to develop a mutually acceptable way to consider Byrd’s reform proposals. The key recommendation that emerged from the discussions was for the Senate to consider separately the post-cloture reforms embedded in S. Res. 9. On February 7, Senator Byrd submitted a resolution (S. Res. 61) that dealt only with post-cloture procedures.

Noteworthy is that on January 15, Majority Leader Byrd had made clear to his Senate colleagues that it was imperative for the Senate to deal with the postcloture filibuster because it thwarts “the will not only of a majority but of a three-fifths majority of the Senate, which, having voted for cloture signifies its will that the debate shall come to a close and that the pending matter shall be acted upon one way or the other.”315 If a unanimous consent agreement to address changes to the post-cloture filibuster was unattainable, Senator Byrd said that he would employ the constitutional option—”in essence upholding the power and right of a majority of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate at the beginning of a new Congress.” Moreover, he dismissed the view that the Senate’s rules continue from one Congress to the next unless they are changed in accordance with those rules. “That [Senate] rule was written in 1959 by the 86th Congress. The 96th Congress is not bound by the dead hand of the 86th Congress.” He went on to state:

The Senate of the 86th Congress could not pretend to believe that all succeeding Senates would be bound by the rules that it had written. It would be just as reasonable to say that one Congress can pass a law providing that all future laws have to be passed by a two-thirds vote. Any Member of this body knows that the next Congress would not heed that law and would proceed to change it and would vote repeal by a majority vote.

I am not going to argue the case any further today, except to say that it is my belief—which has been supported by rulings of Vice Presidents of both parties and by votes of the Senate—in essence upholding the power and right of a majority of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate at the beginning of a new Congress.

Note that this procedure was not carried out; Byrd’s threat was enough. I believe that Byrd’s mastery of arcana would make his views authoritative even today.

(2) When the Senate is in session, by creating a new precedent (the “Nuclear Option”). Fortunately we have a method translated into lay language, together with proof that this technique has been used successfully twice. From the Brookings Institution:

A more complicated, but more likely, way to ban the filibuster would be to create a new Senate precedent. The chamber’s precedents exist alongside its formal rules to provide additional insight into how and when its rules have been applied in particular ways. Importantly, this approach to curtailing the filibuster—colloquially known as the “nuclear option” and more formally as “reform by ruling”—can, in certain circumstances, be employed with support from only a simple majority of senators.

The nuclear option leverages the fact that a new precedent can be created by a senator raising a point of order, or claiming that a Senate rule is being violated. If the presiding officer (typically a member of the Senate) agrees, that ruling establishes a new precedent. If the presiding officer disagrees, another senator can appeal the ruling of the chair. If a majority of the Senate votes to reverse the decision of the chair, then the opposite of the chair’s ruling becomes the new precedent.

In both 2013 and 2017, the Senate used this approach to reduce the number of votes needed to end debate on nominations. The majority leader used two non-debatable motions to bring up the relevant nominations, and then raised a point of order that the vote on cloture is by majority vote. The presiding officer ruled against the point of order, but his ruling was overturned on appeal—which, again, required only a majority in support. In sum, by following the right steps in a particular parliamentary circumstance, a simple majority of senators can establish a new interpretation of a Senate rule.

We all may be under the impression — which neither Senators nor the press seem to think it is important to correct — that the fiibuster is immutable and unchanging. In fact, Senate rules for the filibuster have changed often, although the speed of change with respect to political time must seem geological. From Ballotpedia:

In 1964, during debate over what became the Civil Rights Act, southern Democrats filibustered for over 75 hours in an attempt to prevent the bill’s passage. In an effort to remedy the issue of future filibusters, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) instituted two modifications. The first was to force cloture votes on filibuster threats; the second was to implement a two-track system. This system, instituted in 1972, provided senators the option to filibuster while the chamber considers other legislation. In 1975, the Senate again revised its rules to allow for cloture to be invoked by a vote of 60 senators, with the exception of Senate rules, which then required a two-thirds vote. Some argue that the two-track rule has lead to an increase in the use of silent filibusters. During a silent filibuster, a member does not need to speak on the floor to block a vote from happening and can even filibuster by email. A senator is not required to speak in public to prevent the passage of a bill. The senator simply needs to issue a warning that there are enough votes to support a filibuster.

(The two-track system has led to a proliferation of silent filibusters, because they are now essentially without cost). More recently:

Three of the most substantial legislative accomplishments of the past 12 years — President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill, former President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act — were only achieved by one party finding a way around the filibuster.

Senates during the Obama, Trump, and Biden years all used “the nuclear option.” I do not know what procedure Mansfield used. It might have been the “Constitional Option,” it might not have.

Justifications for the Filbuster

Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Thomas Jipping justifies the filibuster as follows:

[T]hink of it in terms of a two-sided coin, one side of the coin is the filibuster, which is when senators try to end debate on a bill or a nomination but they fail. But the other side of the coin is a positive side and that is that the Senate was designed and viewed, I think, from the beginning to play a different role in the legislative process than the House. The House, it takes action and it’s just a simple majority of members can do whatever they want. Lots of things happen. Passions are flaring. But the Senate was designed to be more deliberative, to debate more. And so, a lot of times I like to refer to this as the Senate’s right to extended debate, which is part of the way the Senate does its legislative business, it always has.

( I don’t think branches of government have rights, but let that pass. Also, there’s nothing deliberative about a silent filibuster. It’s — follow me closely here — silent! And:

[I]t’s not supposed to be easy for government to do stuff [conservative cant on big gummint removed].

Indeed, James Madison writes in Federalist 62:

The mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members, however qualified they may be, points out, in the strongest manner, the necessity of some stable institution in the government. Every new election in the States is found to change one half of the representatives. From this change of men must proceed a change of opinions; and from a change of opinions, a change of measures. But a continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule of prudence and every prospect of success.

To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government would fill a volume. I will hint a few only, each of which will be perceived to be a source of innumerable others.

In the first place, it forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, and all the advantages connected with national character. An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly.

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed [?] mass of the people.

There is much to be said for what Madison urges. (One thinks, for example, of the confusion caused by the Comintern’s perpetual changes of the party line pre-World War II.) However, if we grant that Madison’s Constitutional architecture fulfills its ends, there’s no need for a filibuster on top of what’s already there.

The Theory of Entrenchment as a Tactic

We turn now to the “thermonuclear option.” Recall the concept of “standing rules”:

The legislative process on the Senate floor is governed by a set of standing rules, a body of precedents created by rulings of presiding officers or by votes of the Senate, a variety of established and customary practices, and ad hoc arrangements the Senate makes to meet specific parliamentary and political circumstances.

In “The Filibuster” (Stanford Law Review 49(2), 181–254, 1997) Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky make the argument that “standing rules” do not pass Constitutional muster, bringing forward the concept of “entrenchment”. 1997 it is true, but everything old is new again:

“One legislature cannot bind subsequent legislatures.” Note that Byrd, with his “dead hand” trope, is making the same argument (though not in a Constitutional context). More:


“The senators responsible for enacting the rules cannot be held accountable because they are no longer members of the body.” To make a homely metaphor, George Washington (apocryphally) remarked of the Senate: “We pour legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it.” That is the architecture Madison described (and the Heritage Foundation is perhaps overly comfortable within). But in today’s filibuster we have a saucer that was, as it were, willed to us by a previous generation, but with a standing rule that we use a saucer of this size, this depth, this composition, and when we pour today’s hot tea into it, it will crack. Plus it’s not dishwasher-safe. So why not change the standing rule? Here is the key point:

“A justiciable case.” I should say that Fisk and Chemerinsky’s thesis is not uncontroversial (see here and here). However, I’m not seeking a correct legal theory. Rather, I am suggesting that — like Byrd’s threat to invoke the Constitutional option — that the thermonuclear threat of a suit based on the entrenchment thesis would so threaten the Senate’s sense of itself, and its vaunted comity, that filibuster reform (note the moderation of Fisk and Chemerinsky’s terms) might be carried out. Certainly it’s another weapon in the Democrat’s arsenal of “our democracy,” and heaven knows they need one.


The Brookings Institution shows why a Senator might well wish to preserve the filibuster:

Senators often speak about their principled support for the filibuster. But senators’ views about the rules are more often shaped by their views about policy. There would likely need to be a specific measure that majority party senators both agreed upon and cared enough about to make banning the filibuster worth it. As Republicans’ experience in the first two years of the Trump administration suggest, such proposals may be easier imagined than achieved.

In addition, individual senators may find the filibuster useful to their own personal power and policy goals, as it allows them to take measures hostage with the hopes of securing concessions. For majority party leaders, meanwhile, the need to secure 60 votes to end debate helps them to shift blame to the minority party for inaction on issues that are popular with some, but not all, elements of their own party. Finally, senators may be concerned about the future; in an era of frequent shifts in control of the chamber, legislators may worry that a rule change now will put them at a disadvantage in the near future.

In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, for example, it’s entirely possible that the Democrat leadership is not unhappy with the outcome, and in addition wishes to preserve the filibuster for the time when they will be in the minority once again. These calculations are doubtless more important than procedural arcana, but since arcana define the Senate as a field of battle, it is necessary to understand them.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Petty

    Thought you were talking about Russian thermonuclear warheads vaporizing humans so that we could sell more LNG to Europe and Cargill could make more money….

  2. drumlin woodchuckles

    Assuming Republicans retake the Senate, they will introduce the peekaboo filibuster . . . now you see it, now you don’t. They will suspend it whenever Democrats would use it to stop a Republican bill, and then restore it. Just like in spirit when the Soopreem Kort said its Bush v. Gore ruling was in its own special cabinet with no relation to anything else.

    Which finally gave me a good reason for Biden and the Democrat Senate to pack the Soopreem Kort. Because the Republicans will then pack it more to make it theirs again. The two cycles of packing should destroy the Kort’s image of legitimacy down to the level of its actual legitimacy . . . . which is zero.

    It would be a way to Nuke the Kort. The empty space could then be filled with a better Kort with better rules and a new spray-on coat of fresh legitimacy. Or the empty space could just be left empty.

      1. flora

        adding: See the two major US political parties’ public representations as a variety of US burlesque theater. / ;)

  3. hk

    Filibuster is not real. It’s never been real. This has been essentially understood among the insiders since at least 1953 ( The only reason this has not been touched is/was that pretending supermajority is required made for good politics–giving senators cover, avoid touching controvert, and maintain a sort of nonaggression agreement between the parties. If political requirements change, perhaps these aren’t important enough, BUT are Dems prepared to face the consequences if the other side go for the jugular, too? There are shades of Ukraine here: big self-rigteous slogans only feed delusions. If Dems want to drop the filibuster, that’s fine, but they’d better be prepared for far nastier, bare knuckle politics.

    1. Librarian Guy

      What “nastier bare knuckled politics”? They exist to fellate the ReThuglicans and to kill any and all reforms demanded by their voters, then tell the Dem suckers “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” TINA, we will lose every time but you must support us, you have to impotently “oppose” evil!! Both Pelosi & Biden early in Biden’s term spoke about how they wanted a powerful, stable ReThug party as collaborators . . . Collaborators (in the Vichy sense) is all the Dems have been since the Clintons took power & Gore let li’l Bushy openly steal the election of 2000. I guess it might feel “nasty” to Charlie Brown to have that football yanked away the 22 thousand and 18th time, but suckers gotta suck and the institutional Dems will continue to play their role, just like Alan Colmes played punching bag to Hannity for so many years. All the Ruling Class know their appointed roles & will continue to play them ad nauseum until the seas rise or the nukes fly over “Ukranian freedum”.

    2. marym

      Remember when Senate Republicans refused hold a hearing on the Garland nomination, leaving a seat vacant for a year; and rushed the Barrett nomination a week before the 2020 election?

      If Democrats ever bother to do anything, Republicans may cite them (or antifa or socialism) for future “bare knuckles politics” – if for some reason they’re inclined to do anything besides brag about it – but that won’t make it true.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Republicans know all this. They don’t do it because they will face political backlash. The unelected Supremes are taking the hits. They are still afraid of putting their names on the actual legislation. Now they can hem and haw about offering support.

      The Republicans also know they should be a minority rump party given their level of support. What are the Republicans going to do? Get rid of Roe? Abolish the VRA? They hide their agenda behind courts, but they were always too cowardly to pass it when they had votes.

      The filibuster never stopped the GOP.

  4. Jonah from the Whale

    In a odd-numbered group of people, the outcome of voting on any proposal [even a unanimous vote] will always be odd-numbered, assuming all members of the group vote. Thus if the group is evenly-divided on a proposal, it makes one group member more decisive than all other group members. If that uncommitted group member votes for one side than the other, that side wins a majority, and if it is sufficient for a simple majority to pass a proposal binding all 100% members of the group, the proposal passes and becomes a rule or law. This is a ‘democratic’ result, if democracy is the will of a simple majority, but hardly wise. The two groups being more or less equally divided are not going to be happy with any result, and might promote further discord, even breaking up the group (e.g. Civil War). On the other hand, it 2/3ds of the group must vote in favor of a proposal to make it law, a single member is no longer decisive, and that member’s opportunity to exact a higher price than others for his vote no longer exists. That member is replaced by a minimum of one-third of the members of his own group (one-sixth of the total group). This is a better result, and not likely to lead to violence but more likely to lead to compliance.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > On the other hand, it 2/3ds of the group must vote in favor of a proposal to make it law, a single member is no longer decisive, and that member’s opportunity to exact a higher price than others for his vote no longer exists.

      Unfortunately our electoral system works against this:

      The United States uses single-winner, “first-past-the-post”, plurality voting for almost everything. When we elect someone, we define an eligible electorate, create some procedure by which candidates can get their name on the ballot, and the position goes to whomever gets the most votes, regardless of whether that’s a majority. It’s a simple, intuitive, form of democracy. It’s also terrible.

      The most commonly discussed flaw, sometimes recast as a virtue, is “Duverger’s Law“, which points out this system herds people into two-parties. Plurality voting renders a multiplicity of political parties unsustainable, as distinct but somewhat aligned parties that fail to join together split one other’s vote, handing victory to groups the somewhat-aligned parties detest even more than one another. I endorse this critique. I think we’d have a much healthier democracy if citizens could make homes in political political parties that genuinely reflect each of our values and interests, rather than melting into two permanent, bitterly contested, coalitions. The Americanist apology that the broad coalitions forced by a two-party system yield moderation, stability, and compromise has, I think, been discredited by events. Instead, incumbency incentives within the United States’ two party system demand entrenched polarization, however dysfunctional that is for the polity as a whole.

      Less frequently discussed than all of that is how weak first-past-the-post voting is, with respect to resisting corruption. And weakness, Republican politicians eternally remind us, is provocative. Single-winner, first-past-the-post elections are often described as “winner-takes-all”. That means that in a close election, the leverage, the “ROI”, associated with stealing a small edge can be huge. If the ultimate margin of victory of an election is likely to be within 2%, you only have to manipulate, suppress, or steal 2% of the vote to win 100% of the power. Then we are “shocked, shocked” that political entrepreneurs with an interest in the outcome (not necessarily of the parties themselves, it could be Russia!) do play for such edges.

      But that’s only true for close elections, right? Yes, that’s right.

      But because single-winner, first-past-the-post voting yields a two-party system, we should expect that the most consequential elections will frequently be evenly matched.

      I think one thing we might do is outlaw political parties, or at least advertising and money solication by political parties.

  5. michael hudson

    Lambert, your description of the filibuster really should be done as a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch.
    It’s obvious indeed that the Democrats are just playing with pretending to be unable to move. That means that their public statements are just for gullible voters, who look at the words, not the politicians’ actions.
    Great expose.

  6. none

    Idk what good this does. Maybe Dems pass nationwide legalized abortion tomorrow. In 2023 Repubs will take over Congress. They pass nationwide abortion ban but I guess Biden vetoes it and they are stopped for 2 years. Then in January 2025, they pass it again and Trump or DeSantis or whoever is president signs it. Democrats=Uvalde cops, I’m sticking with that.

    1. JBird4049

      I think that you are right.

      The Democrats are feckless grifters not even playing defense while the Republicans are using knuckle dusters, shivs, and gasoline. I can see the most likely outcomes for the next three years. The Democrats get tossed. Then the nationwide abortion ban that gets vetoed. Someone like Trump wins in 2024. Finally, in 2025 outcomes the mass protests and the Police State’s goon squads come out to crack heads when the abortion ban passes. We are fracked.

      I think that almost nobody is happy even if they approved of the Supreme Court’s recent decision? What good does it do to be either pro-choice or pro-life when there are no jobs, no healthcare, no justice been no hope, and the entire system has remade into a national abattoir that renders most Americans into profit for the elites?

      I am not old enough to remember the protests and the assassinations of the 60s and early 70s, but the more I read stuff like Lambert’s post here, the more I think I am going to find out what it was like.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > Someone like Trump wins in 2024

        Not to be overly contrarian, but from 2016 onward there has been exactly one candidate who expressed non-cray cray views on Russia and NATO: Trump. Looks to me like in 2016 the country managed to put war in Ukraine off for four years, but here we are.

        1. tempestteacup

          Strong agree that a) plans to goad Russia into semi open war with Nato using Ukr as the baitball are long standing and b) the principle architects have been Dem aligned since at least Trumptime (down escalator, rapists and a handful of allegedly good ppl usw.) began. The whole Russiagate conniption, to me, wasn’t just a preemptive attempt to strongarm Trump as Prez back within neoconservative policy boxes, it wasn’t corner Dems peddling their favourite drug, Copium, to the otherwise disillusioned voting stiffs. What it represented was the reality, duly refracted through media mythmaking, stupidity, and obscurantism (US today in its informatiom universe resembles the repressive, self-desciplining, part-fairytale, part sublimated paranoia, disfunction of endstage USSR) of the Dems assuming the leadership of the political wing of the permanent security state and military industrial capital from Bush era Republicans (now recast as a confection of jolly amateur portraitists and chin chucking granddads with all the nobility of Lincoln at Gettysburg besides). As with the USSR media, there is often truth buried in the evasions, lies of omission/commission, and rhetorical inanities- just never remotely close to where they say it will be. Even the frothing giddiness amd excitement of the media wasn’t merely a mark of their now terminal infantilism; they were demob happy because they and the Dems have wanted this, to cast off all martial restraint and 60s relics of anti war sentiment, for a long time. Trump Russia was the chance.

          All of which is to say that yes I am sure plans were afoot to bravely send Ukrainians to fight and die on behalf of Nato sanctity from the safety of DC amd Brussels. But I wonder if a Trump loss would have moved the conflict along faster. My understanding is that the US/Nato needed all the time from 2014-now to fully embed Western military critters in the Ukr command, flood the place with kit, train their officer class according to Nato norms, disperse Nazi sympathising cadres throughout military, security and civil states to stiffen resolve, purge any weak (read not rabidly anti Russian) links and terrorise any locals who may not share their messianic vision of racial purity. So much to do and so little time – no wonder Dems pancake when it comes to little things like domestic inequality, abortion abolitionists and Covid running rampant!

          In that context and assuming that the Dems and neocon Republicans were dedicated to conflict w Russia since at least Euromaidan, media Russiagate was also a PR exercise to normalise xenophobic attitudes towards Russia, render sane assessment of their strengths/weaknesses or interests impossible, and psychologically prepare ppl for the intensification of anti democratic measures including the philistinism of cancelling Russian cultural exchange or appreciation that immediately followed Feb 24.

          One question I have is whether Trump 2024 or whoever assumes his mantle could/would reject the current state of things just because Trump 2016 invoked the traditins of far right US isolationiam. Maybe. It is certainpy possible that by then he scopes mileage in articulating fatigue with what would by then be years of conflict (and who knows in what state of viability Ukr will be in 12-24 months). But maybe he won’t.

          And that’s before taking China into consideration. Because one thing the Dem war party and Trumpists both seem to agree on is that if Russia conflict is the blinis and caviar, China conflict is the roast duck with plum sauce!

      2. anon y'mouse

        you aren’t going to find out what it is like, because those assassinations essentially killed all hope for progress in this country for all time.

        ever after that, and COINTELPRO, the true alternative to the curtain that came down in the 60s has been bought off, infiltrated and essentially on board the hostage train since they understand the stakes.

        even the 70s protests were infiltrated and partially fake. the whole Jane Fonda thing was a setup, while she’s lauded at Langley for providing them bombing targets with her “amazing memory for details”.

        the “young blood” is sheepdogged this way, allowed to sow their oats while being gentled down into accomodation and needing to earn a living.

        1. JBird4049

          >>>you aren’t going to find out what it is like, because those assassinations essentially killed all hope for progress in this country for all time.

          To a point, yes. However, riots, goon squads, and assassinations have a long history here. Just look at the labor movement especially in mining. I think eventually some unhappy people will get their act in shape and start to “agitate” for change. As JFK once said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

    2. Randy

      Yes, Dems codify, Repubs un-codify.

      Let the states do their thing. Let the women vote with their feet and see how things shake out. The women that will leave red states want options and the women that will stay want children and husbands. The end result depends on what the men in the red states want. In the short term they want sex but do they want the long term results of their short term goals? Maybe the red states should require marriage for impregnation and ban divorce, that would be interesting.

      People are basically all the same. These red state women will figure it all out and in time the red state men might end up eventually paying a price for all this anti abortion business.

  7. Stuart in IL

    I’m puzzled about the Dems’ eagerness – even from Bernie Sanders – to dismantle the filibuster, given their current political prospects. If gone, then as soon as the Republicans get modest majorities in the Senate and House, and a sympathetic president, wouldn’t they reasonably use it to repeal longstanding legislation which they dislike – like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, NEPA, and so on – along with reversing anything passed by simple Dem majority after the filibuster was removed? Isn’t the filibuster protecting those measures passed during better times?

    But what I’m understanding from this article is that those reversals could well happen anyway, even if the Dems don’t take a step to end the filibuster now.

    I do like drumlin woodchuckles’ suggestion of packing the court as a means of discrediting it.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      No. Threat of protests is protecting those things. The filibuster is a rule of the Senate, but the Senate’s power comes from the Constitution. It just needs 50+1 to pass anything. The filibuster only lasted as long as it did to avoid issues of slavery then Jim Crow, and now just anything.

      “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” is sentimentalist slop not reality. They don’t even have to get rid of the filibuster.

    2. Tom Stone

      Stuart in Il, repealing those acts would make a lot of donors VERY happy and happy donors are generous donors.
      The Thugs will get fat
      The Dems will do right well “Fighting to” preserve our Rights and then
      “Fighting to” Restore our Rights.
      Everyone who matters will do well!

  8. JBird4049

    This is helpful to read. Thanks. And I do like the image of the Democrats getting their thrills in political sexual bondage with them as the subs and the Republicans as the dom with the whip. Congressional politics as sexual role play.

    IIRC, the filibuster used to require that someone had to stand up and talk with everyone required to stay and even sleep at the Senate until it ended. But now it’s silent and effort free.

    It should probably be gone, but really, it is not just that the filibuster is a thing as that is just a convenient excuse, but that it is an excuse not to govern, but to give buckets of money to the connected and already wealthy that most members of Congress are in office.

    1. juno mas

      Yes! The Senate is the most un-representative, judicially powerful government body in the world.

      Advise and consent has become devise and prevent.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Replace the House with a National Jury chosen by lot.

      I think that’s a little bit much. I do think sortition is under-used, especially at the state level.

  9. baldski

    Does the filibuster engender further debate on bills? Every time I look at C-Span the Congressional chambers are empty. Nobody is there. The Senators are all across the street dialing for dollars. They are not on the Senate floor. It’s a hell of a job. No boss, great health care, worldwide travel paid for on junkets, and 176k/yr. plus perks and a great vacation plan. What’s not to like?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Does the filibuster engender further debate on bills?

      The silent filibuster, if anything, prevents debate.

      As for “What’s not to like?”, some people may like being on the phone constantly asking (very stupid rich people) for money. Others might not….

  10. anon y'mouse

    interesting your use of this imagery, as i’ve been saying they have played the sub to the repubs Dom for years and years.

    so interesting where this site gets its imagery and ideas, when it wants them.

  11. orlbucfan

    “Advise and consent has become devise and prevent.”
    Good one, clever, too. And tRump? That cretin is an insult to any sentient, thinking creature, American or not!

  12. Tim

    Most do not realize the House of Representatives has a similar restrictive rule that doomed Imigration Reform in 2012 (Even if Boener brought it to the floor it wouldn’t have passed). I forget who it was named after (Hastert?), but it requires the majority of the majority party in the house to approve for for a proposed law to pass the house.

  13. Steve D

    Can’t thank you enough for this post Lambert. I’ve often thought an enterprising journalist could carve out quite the niche by focusing on the impact congressional rules and procedures, a surprising number of which are not specified constitutionally, have on what happens in washington.

  14. KLG

    As a Georgia native, that photograph of LBJ getting in the face of Senator Richard B. Russell, genteel segregationist, always does my heart good.

    Alas, there was a war in Vietnam…

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