The Filibuster Deception

Opinion: Mitch McConnell hits a new low, again. Yet Joe Manchin remains unmoved.

Jennifer Rubin

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lacked the nerve to convict the former president for instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. But he made a nice speech following the impeachment hearings in February: “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen,” McConnell said. He added, “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”

Fast forward to May: McConnell insists there is nothing more to learn. Odd, since it was he who had once declared:

“Whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day, whatever reaction he says he meant to produce, by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.”

“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”

But the now-former president didn’t. Do we know why? Do we know what he was doing at the time of the attack? Do we know who funded the insurrectionists and who communicated with them? Do we know how to prevent this from happening again? There is plenty to learn, which is exactly why McConnell wants to shut it down.

Gladys Sicknick — the mother of Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the insurrection — visited Senate offices on Thursday seeking Republicans who would allow a cloture vote to set up an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the violence. That apparently unnerved McConnell, according to a CNN report. One Republican “told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as ‘a personal favor’ to him.” That Republican told CNN, “No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission.”

No one? Perhaps he fears enraging the disgraced former president. Perhaps he fears reminding voters of Republicans’ participation in spreading the “big lie” that the election was stolen and attempting to overturn electoral votes even after the mob rampaged through Capitol. Perhaps he fears possible discovery of some Republicans’ deeper involvement in the insurrection. Perhaps he fears that the commission would debunk the “big lie,” which is now the justification for voter-suppression efforts around the country. And perhaps he fears Americans will conclude that Republicans cannot be trusted with power. (If the GOP holds the House in January 2025, does anyone feel confident it will abide by the results of the electoral college?) In essence, McConnell likely thinks a “personal favor” to advance his career and to return him to majority-leader status should take precedence over Gladys Sicknick’s plea to see accountability for her son’s death.

Meanwhile, a key Democrat who has the power to carve out an exception for the filibuster to allow the commission engaged in double talk. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) declared Thursday, “There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against the commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for.” He continued, “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”

So Manchin will help put an end to this unjustified refusal to inquire into an assault on democracy? Not so fast. “I’m not ready to destroy our government,” he said, equating filibuster reform with the destruction of government. (Remember, the filibuster was not used until the late 19th century and became a vehicle for denying civil rights to Black Americans in the 20th century). Manchin added: “It’s time to come together. I think there’s 10 good people.”

Manchin is not dumb. His ploy is obvious: Make preserving the filibuster more important than any item (even voting rights or a commission to investigate insurrection) and insist, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, that there are 10 Republican votes to break the impasse. But there isn’t. This was made clear on Thursday, when Republicans refused to allow the commission bill to go to the floor. Manchin’s excuse that the filibuster must remain in place to promote debate is incoherent. This was a vote to put a bill on the floor for debate. Rather, the filibuster is a convenient crutch for Manchin, who has avoided taking hard votes when 10 Republicans could not be found to achieve cloture. In that manner, he has ducked the wrath of more conservative voters back home and sidestepped the ire of the party’s progressive base.

Perhaps not now, but eventually, the pressure will intensify on Manchin. His political legacy will be determined: He either will be known as the man who defended democracy in its darkest hour, or the man who helped Republicans subvert our democracy