Sunday, April 21, 2024
Share:

Republicans Must Use Leadership Change as Opportunity to End Business as Usual in Senate



With yesterday’s announcement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he will step down as the Republican Senate leader in November, conservatives have a generational opportunity. McConnell has been the Senate’s GOP leader for over 17 years. The choice senators will face now is between continuing business as usual or setting up the Senate to fight to save the country.

To anyone not living under a rock, it should be clear what’s at stake. The leftist regime is prosecuting former President Donald Trump. The border is wide open. Inflation and federal deficit spending are crushing everyday Americans.

These are existential threats to the republic. Regardless of what happens in the presidential election, the Senate is—by design—positioned to address these issues. Conservatives across the country are exhausted by business as usual in the face of these multiple impending crises. Senators must recognize the moment in considering what type of leadership to elect.

As Sen. Mike Lee has pointed out, Republican senators regularly vote with Democrats to pass Democrat priorities, yet this is never reciprocated. The irony of this is that, because of the structure of the filibuster, any 41 senators could block bad legislation and demand changes in exchange for passage. To the great shock of absolutely no one, there aren’t 41 Republican senators with the political will to do this. Strong Republican Senate leadership would be a step in the right direction to addressing the problem of political will.

Republican Senators must elect leaders who will challenge the status quo and fight for conservative priorities. The right person for this role will be someone who can rally the troops to take on the risk of tough votes, even if those votes will be used against them by their opposition in election season. What’s the point of having six-year terms if senators can’t make prudent decisions for the good of the country?

While senators should first and foremost consider strong leadership when it comes to passing good bills or defeating bad ones, the nature of electoral politics is that for most senators, top-of-mind will be the ability of their leadership to fundraise to help them with their elections and to help elect new Republicans to add to their ranks.

These senators should consider that donors are just as frustrated as the general public with the state of Washington. In my conversations with donors of all types, the topic of frustration with a lack of results from Congress is unavoidable. Their displeasure seems to be at an all-time high.

While I would oppose the notion that donors should dictate how the Senate legislates, senators who would consider fundraising ability as a criterion for leadership should probably consider choosing leadership who will fight for conservative priorities in order to not frustrate the people who care enough about this country to donate their time and treasure.

Another criterion that senators should consider is how their leadership handles the legislative process. For example, starting in the 2010s, the Senate majority leader (regardless of party) began frequently engaging in the practice of filling the amendment tree.

Without getting overly complicated, there are rules in the Senate that govern the order in which amendments to legislation are considered. A limited number of amendments can be considered at any time. The majority leader can use a tradition known as the “right of first recognition” to fill all available slots for amendments. This prevents any other senator from offering additional amendments.

What this means in practice is that the only opportunity to affect legislation is in backroom negotiations. Often, conservative senators and the states they represent are excluded from this process. The reason offered by leadership for engaging in this practice of filling the amendment tree is to protect vulnerable members from having to take tough votes that may lose them support back home. After all, it’s very important to protect them so that the majority can supposedly fight for the country. And, if you look around, you can see exactly how well that’s going.

Another practical outcome of this procedural control is that much of the power of the Senate is held by one person—the majority leader. If you understand that the upcoming presidential election is certainly the most important of our lifetime, consider that while presidents are term-limited, the one person holding the power of the Senate could keep that position for well over a decade. The stakes couldn’t be higher. 

Unfortunately, many senators like this process of filling the tree, as it does protect them from tough votes and gives certain senators more say in the process. Conservatives must demand leadership with the courage to change this and other practices that weaken the ability of the Senate to fight for the best interests of the American people.

Ultimately, even necessary procedural changes are a question of political will. This means that political courage and an understanding of what’s at stake are the most essential qualities in the next Republican Senate leader.

Come the Senate election for a new Republican leader in November, senators should not waste a first-in-a-generation opportunity to end business as usual in Washington.