McCain, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Nov. 29 that he and Chairman Carl Levin made a conscious decision to prove to others that the Senate can still function without cutting off some avenues for filibusters in January.
“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., said. “What we do isn’t going to influence that, but the Senate historically is a body — regardless of party — where everything’s debatable and everything’s voted on,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to that.”
While Republican senators have said there’s no formal effort to keep their colleagues from making full use of their institutional prerogatives, those most prone to use procedural devices that meddle with Reid have been lured away from procedural mischief, at least for now.
Coburn, for instance, relented and allowed other amendments to proceed last week after Schumer’s objection.
In another example, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., backed off his threat to hold up action after making a lot of noise about an amendment he wanted to offer that would require jury trials for Americans detained in terrorism investigations. That generated vociferous opposition from some fellow Republicans, including McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Paul had held up proceeding to the bill, but Reid was not forced to file a motion to limit debate on that. Instead, Paul worked with several other senators, including Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, on an alternative. The Senate easily adopted that amendment during debate Nov. 29.
During that debate, Graham called the terrorism suspects detained at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantànamo Bay, Cuba, “crazy bastards,” which Paul ridiculed.
“I don’t really think that if we’re going to have a crazy-bastard standard that we shouldn’t have a right to trial by jury, because if we’re going to lock up all the crazy bastards, for goodness sakes — would you not want if you’re a crazy bastard to have a right to trial by jury?” Paul said.
On the issue of avoiding a confrontation in January, however, Rules and Administration ranking member Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said it could all come down to Reid.
“Sen. Reid said that changing the rules with 51 votes, the nuclear option, would destroy the Senate. He said it in 2005 and 2006 when Republicans were trying to do it. He was exactly right about that,” Alexander said, in reference to the debate over whether then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., should use procedural tools to eliminate filibusters of judicial nominations. “I don’t think he wants to go down in history as the majority leader who destroyed the Senate.”