Many folks lament the contemporary partisan political atmosphere – longing for the days of “collegiality” and cooperation among members of Congress.
The burden to maintain that collegial atmosphere relies disproportionately on the party that has the majority. That is because the Constitution gives the majority party vast powers to be used or abused. These are autocratic powers that are tempered by a tradition of bipartisanship and respect for minority views and protections. Some of that is reflected in the rules of both the House and Senate.
Collegiality and bipartisanship break down with the ruling party disregarding the protection of minority views and a manifest contempt for minority participation. In recent years, we have seen a drift toward strident partisanship – replacing traditions and minority protections with autocratic governance.
In the past several years – since Democrats have gained control of the House and technical control of the Senate – we have seen a surge in strident partisanship. Democrats now rule with utter contempt for the loyal opposition.
Not long after Democrats took control, a Republican congressional aide complained to me that the new Democrat leadership had completely disregarded Republican opinion to the point of conducting business without GOP participation — other than the window-dressing official committee meetings. There was no consultation with Republicans in the crafting of President Biden’s legislative programs.
Pelosi engineered the first ever totally partisan impeachment of a President. That lowered the threshold for future impeachments. The requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that can be recognized across party lines is no longer the tradition. The impeachment standard now is merely one party wanting to embarrass or punish the other. It is simply the will of the majority.
We saw how surrendering one tradition on the altar of political pragmatism brought about a subsequent reaction. The confirmation of federal judges traditionally required bipartisan support. That mean the President had to consider the type of person who would appeal across the aisle. That generally meant moderation.
When President Obama started to nominate far more liberal federal judges, they ran into problems during confirmation. Rather than appoint moderate judges In order to get President Obama’s appointments confirmed in the tradition of bipartisanship, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kicked aside the supermajority requirement except for Supreme Court justices – making the selection process for other federal judges purely partisan.
When the tables were turned, and President Trump had a majority in the Senate, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell followed Reid’s lead by changing the rule that Supreme Court justices could be confirmed by a simple majority. Again, bipartisanship took a hit.
Congress’s power of investigation has become corrupted by partisanship. Since 2018, Democrats have launched more and more investigations based on political partisanship. Today, Congress seems to do more investigating than legislating.
The Select Committee investigating the Capitol Hill riot has taken raw politics to a new low. While it has been the tradition of the opposition party to assign members to the various committees, Speaker Pelosi – in a brutal expression of raw partisan power — first refused to accept two of the Republicans named to the Committee by House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy and then did what would have been unthinkable any time in the past. She used her power to conspire with two apostate Republicans – and named them to the Committee over the objection of the GOP Leader.
Those on the left may point to the congressional committees that investigated Hillary Clinton’s server and the tragic deaths in Benghazi as examples of Republican launched investigations. The notable difference is that those hearings had full participation of Democrats appointed by Pelosi. Her handling of the Select Committed was a far more serious breach of tradition and collegiality – significantly lowering the bar.
The move to strident partisanship and contempt for bipartisan traditions may play against Democrats in the near future. Just as some Democrats voice regret at Reid’s changing the rules for federal judges – giving McConnell a rationale for changing the rules for the Supreme Court — there are some Democrats worrying about creating an investigation backlash when the GOP takes over.
If Republicans take control of the house, can they launch investigations into Hunter Biden and even the President’s business dealings? Could that justify an impeachment supported only by the Republican majority? What about investigating Biden’s mental acuity as justification for removal from office?
If such actions seem preposterous, consider how preposterous it might have seemed in 2016 to have Democrats push for two impeachments – and one even after the President had left office? How preposterous would it have seemed to have the Speaker of the House assume power over appointing ALL members of a congressional committee – basically locking out the opposition party?
In pursuit and in exercising absolute power, Democrats want to change the rules some more. They do not want elections to have consequences. They want to strip away the filibuster — the only minority protection in the Senate. They want to pack the Supreme Court because the electoral process enabled a Republican legitimately to nominate Supreme Court Justices – and a Republican majority Senate to confirm them.
This trend toward extreme and strident partisanship may be irreversible. And that would be a pity for the future of the nation. America is a “house divided” that cannot stand unless some level of collegiality and respect for tradition is restored.
So, there ‘tis.