On a recent episode of The New Abnormal podcast, Robin Marty, the communications director for the West Alabama Women’s Center, had a wonderful turn of phrase.
Democrats, she said, “are a stupidly polite party.” She added: “We believe in decorum, we believe in following the rules, we believe in justice. And it’s held against us in many ways.”
It’s that combination of attributes that could cost Democrats dearly unless they change their ways, and quick. They have to play more like Republicans. Remember last year when Democrats screwed around for months trying to get a Senate parliamentarian to agree to some important items they wanted in a “reconciliation” bill? It took weeks and cost lots of legislative momentum.
When Republicans faced the same barrier when they were in the majority, they simply fired the parliamentarian to get a ruling they wanted. When they wanted to change the filibuster rules to get current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch confirmed, they did. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has a more complete list of GOP power plays.
Congressional Democrats may feel all self-righteous about how they are better than Republicans because Dems obey the rules. That’s nonsense. Republicans don’t fear Democrats so Republicans get away with anything they want.
Time for that to change. Let’s make an example out of someone. Let’s assume there is a Senator who is being a total pain in the butt, bottling up important legislation that’s good for the country and good for Democrats to run on just because he wants to. Talking hasn’t done any good. It’s more Lucy/Charlie Brown/football time. Let’s play it a different way.
Let’s also assume for sake of discussion that this senator is highly invested in coal, in waste coal to be exact, the kind that’s the dirtiest to burn and produces the least energy. Trump rolled back regulations on waste coal, but the Biden team is taking another look. It’s not enough.
Set it up this way: Two lobbyists are having lunch. One is a Democrat, the other a Republican. One tells the other she hears that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is going to shut down waste coal plants. The other lobbyist later makes a call to a friend, who makes another call to someone who works for the senator, and passes on this tip.
The senator is upset, so calls the White House and demands to speak with the president, who is unavailable, as is the chief of staff. The senator, fuming, is passed along to a deputy and raises a stink about eliminating waste coal. The deputy CoS agrees to pass on the concerns.
A couple of days later, word leaks out that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is going to send inspectors out to waste coal plants. The senator is again livid.
He calls the White House again and again the president is unavailable. He does get through to the Chief of Staff, who listens politely and says that while nothing is final, the agencies are only doing their jobs.
The senator goes nuclear, tells the CoS that if the agencies move ahead, he will switch parties and give the Republicans a Senate majority. The CoS says that while that is certainly an option, the senator should remember that Joe Biden will be president at least through January 2025, and that the plant could stay closed at least until then, perhaps even longer. It’s the senators choice how to respond.
“What do you want me to do,” the Senator asks. “The right thing,” the CoS says, noting that the Senate may well take votes on gun control, voting rights and other issues. “There is no quid pro quo,” the White House staffer says. “It’s up to you.”
The senator’s dilemma: He can watch a family business get shut down or he can help a Democratic president get things passed.
There are, of course, many more senators than simply one troublesome one of whom an example should be made. Some senators, like one from the Southwest, have many, many big donors, many of whom have business before government agencies. Would a new drug have the approval hung up? Would a contract with the government get denied? It’s all on the table.
Word of this new White House attitude would quickly get around. Democrats will be overjoyed. Republicans will be shaken because they thought they had the exclusive right to do legislative power plays. Democrats would never do that because they are “stupidly polite.” Well, Mitch, those days are gone. It’s like a former president only wanting aid to go to states that supported him. Republicans never envisaged actually living under a president like that. Now they would have to. If only.