Speaker Newt Gingrich was fond of saying “The Democrats are our adversaries. The Senate is our enemy.” The Senate has long been a frustration to the impatient warriors for change. Its rules and culture are intentionally designed to be slow and deliberative, in contrast to the quick-moving partisan House.
Today, Republicans have control over all the levers of power. The White House, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the state legislatures, and the governors — they are all dominated by Republicans. The conservative grassroots is rightfully expecting big things after years of promises. And big things are happening. The Trump administration is moving rapidly on a deregulatory agenda to use the administrative powers to advance conservative principles. The states are leading change in a wide range of areas — right to work, fiscal responsibility, education freedom, and health care, to name a few. And finally, nearly every week, the House of Representatives passes legislation with conservative reforms.
Conspicuously absent is the United States Senate. Other than tax reform and judicial confirmations, the Senate has accomplished very little this year, and restless conservatives are eager for improvement.
In fact, as recently as last week, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., led a group of fifteen Republican senators in sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., imploring him to let the Senate work. Outside conservative groups are making the same request.
If senators want to avoid a last minute, $1.3 trillion spending bill in December, fight back against Democratic obstruction and achieve conservative policy victories, they need to double down – before their month-long August break.
Even President Trump has echoed this request, calling on Congress to stay in town until they pass legislation to fund the government.
The second thing is to make them work. The Senate currently works an average of 2.5 days a week. Holding the Senate in town on Fridays and weekends would advance the Trump agenda while preventing the Democrats from going home to campaign for re-election
How can Republicans in the Senate force action in the face of Democrat obstruction? Three simple things: Make Democrats SPEAK. Make them WORK. Make them VOTE.
The first and most obvious, is to make them speak. When most Americans think about a filibuster, we are reminded of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Yet today, what do we see when we turn on CSPAN to watch a so-called filibuster?
Most often, you will see nothing happening, and there will be a note on the TV screen saying, “the Senate is conducting a quorum call.” But the clerk is not reading the names. This is because the Senate Majority Leader has instructed the clerk to read the names slowly as a delay mechanism.
In effect, it is not the Democrats who are filibustering; it is the clerk! One easy change would be to instruct the clerk to actually read the names at a normal pace. Once the roll is called and a quorum is produced (this usually takes 15 minutes), the Democrats would either be forced to do an actual filibuster, or the Senate would immediately vote on the pending bill or nomination.
The second thing is to make them work. The Senate currently works an average of 2.5 days a week. Yes, 2.5 days. They come in on Monday night, vote on an inconsequential nomination, and then they leave town after lunch on Thursday. Not only is this resulting in an anemic pace of legislative achievement, it is helping the Democrats win re-election.
Twenty-six Senate Democrats and only five Republicans are seeking re-election this year. Seven of those Democrats are in Republican-leaning states and two more are in toss-up states. With the exception of Dean Heller of Nevada and the seat currently held by Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is not seeking reelection, all the Republican senators seeking re-election are in relatively safe seats.
In other words, it is the Democrats who want to go home and campaign. Holding the Senate in town on Fridays and weekends would advance the Trump agenda while preventing the Democrats from going home to campaign for re-election. Before the Virginia elections last fall, the Senate recessed on Thursday, November 2 at lunchtime, allowing Virginia’s senators to barnstorm the state all weekend, while Trump nominees languished without any votes.
Third, deploy the Two Speech Rule. Senate Rule 19 restricts senators to two speeches on any bill. Far from being nuclear, this rule is as old as the Senate. Indeed in Jefferson’s Manual. By keeping senators in town, making them talk, and restricting them to their allotted two speeches, you would force the Democrats to actually work. Eventually they would tire, filibusters would end, and votes would commence.
Finally, trust the American people. Notwithstanding the media noise and the inside the beltway blather, the American people have common sense. They see through the games. To demonstrate this we need look no further than the latest government funding fight. The Democrat plan was to close the government hoping to force Republicans to swallow an amnesty bill. The geniuses inside the beltway claim that Republicans always take the blame for every shutdown, even when the Democrats are the obvious cause. But this is because usually, the Republicans cave.
This time, Republicans stuck to their guns. And the public saw through the cynical game the Democrats were playing, Sen. Schumer got smart and reversed course. They didn’t need 60 votes, or even 51. The bill passed unanimously, with consent. It didn’t even need a vote.
Message to the Republican senators: Work hard, trust your principles, use the weapons at your disposal, and trust the American people, and victory will be yours.
Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks.
Jim DeMint is a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina and currently Chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute.
By Jim DeMint
May 22, 2018