Losing the 60th vote

Every so often, quite regularly in fact, I wonder bemusedly if Joe Biden thinks that we congregants of Harry Reid’s vast and smelly unwashed populace never fact-check anything? Actually, I often question whether or not Joe Biden ever thinks ANYTHING. (Forgive me for indulging the impulse for that particular cheap shot; it was begging to be written and I couldn’t tune it out.)

Politico’s reporters were in the room at a Florida fundraiser on Sunday, January 17, when Biden uttered the following, in reference to the Republican minority in the Senate:

“As long as I have served, … I’ve never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they’ve done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators. No democracy has survived needing a supermajority.”

It would be somewhat difficult to discover whether or not Biden’s uncle ever held forth on Constitutional gymnastics, so I decided not to attempt that. BUT I did commence research on another portion of the quote, which although I didn’t precisely time it, took somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 minutes. You will be shocked, SHOCKED to learn that a mere 5 years ago, our Vice President held quite a different view. The context was thus:

The Republican Senate majority had, as a result of the 2004 elections, increased from 51 to 55 seats. Nonetheless, a vast percentage of President Bush’s judicial nominees were going nowhere due to a filibuster threat from the Democrat minority if their nominations were brought to the floor. After all, said nominees might hold extreme views that would set the country reeling backwards into tyrannical midnight, such as the belief that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original intent.

In case it has been a while since your last civics lesson, a filibuster occurs when Senators make the decision to continue talking on the Senate floor, as long as the Senate is in session, about anything under the sun in order to block consideration of pending legislation. At least 60 votes are required to break a filibuster, thus the votes for what is known as “cloture” (ending debate) prior to the actual votes for the legislation itself.

Bill Frist, Republican-Tennessee, was the Senate Majority Leader at the time and along with his GOP colleagues, was growing increasingly frustrated with the immobility of the Senate on this matter. All that was required to eliminate the filibuster was a vote to change Senate rules and sayonara…the filibuster would no longer be a viable choice. This was dubbed the “nuclear option”, a term that caught on very quickly in the mainstream media.

On March 7, 2005, Jeffery Toobin, CNN’s senior legal analyst, included this in a piece for the “New Yorker”:

For Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat and a senator since 1973, the Senate remains a place where “you can always slow things down and make sure that a minority gets a voice,” he said recently. And, he added, “the chance to filibuster”—using extended debate in order to block legislation—“is what makes the difference between this body and the other one.”
Well, well. Fancy that.
It appears increasingly likely that Scott Brown may indeed win the Massachusetts Senate race today. If he does, the Democrats will lose the 60-vote effective majority that they have had ever since June, when Al Franken was sworn in as the new Senator from Minnesota. We can then expect to hear a lot more of the rhetoric that harks back to Vice President Biden’s uncle, rather than the not-so-long ago esteem in which then-Senator Biden held the right to filibuster. Amazing how one’s perspective changes when power shifts, is it not?

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