Kevin Dietsch/Getty After President Joe Biden appealed to Senate Democrats this week to eliminate the filibuster, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell played a familiar card : If Democrats eliminate the filibuster now they will regret it when Republicans control the Senate later.
McConnell’s threats of political retribution have long made Democrats uneasy, and the looming specter of legislative payback is central to the arguments of Democratic centrist senators in favor of preserving the 60-vote threshold.
But McConnell’s threats of political payback shouldn’t even register in Democrats’ minds as a reason to keep the filibuster around. In fact, they are largely empty.
First off, a lot has to go right for the GOP in order for McConnell to make good on his threat. Sure, he may put some bills on the floor some Democrats would rather not vote on, but a Republican Senate won’t be able to turn bills into laws without a Republican House and White House willing to pass and sign them. That scenario is certainly possible after 2024—a lifetime away in political-years—but it’s far from guaranteed.
This is why Democrats are so laser-focused on tossing out the filibuster right now: the clock on guaranteed unified control for Democrats is ticking down to zero fast. They’re terrified of the damage Republicans could do to the country when in charge, and almost just as terrified of how long they could soon be out of power without changes to voting and elections.
But even if Republicans do hit the federal trifecta soon, it’s unlikely they will win large enough majorities for them to push the kind of transformative legislation that so frightens Democrats. It’s one thing to maintain the appearance of party unity on broad policy themes and campaign slogans, particularly when in the minority—it’s another thing entirely to negotiate palatable compromises across an entire caucus at the level of detail federal legislation requires. Just ask the Democrats.