No, Mitch McConnell is not destroying the Senate single-handedly. Instead, the US Senate Majority leader is damaging and disrupting that institution by trying to do his job.
In reality, the U.S. Senate was badly broken long before Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) got there. In fact, the Senate is so dysfunctional the only way McConnell can get anything done is to throw out the body’s unwritten rules.
In particular, Senators have long used the filibuster to stop or delay federal judicial appointments. Moreover, in recent years Senators of both parties; including McConnell himself, have used the filibuster to block all judicial appointments.
McConnell’s actions are reasonable
Now, McConnell is trying to fill large numbers of vacant federal judicial positions by restricting debates on nominees to two hours, NPR reports. However, former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich thinks McConnell’s action destroys the Senate.
McConnell’s action is entirely reasonable because 141 out of 890 federal judicial positions could be vacant, Ballotpedia estimates. However, President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) has filled just 85 judicial vacancies.
Additionally, most of the vacancies are for minor, nonpolitical judicial positions. For instance, district court judges and magistrates.
Since, upper courts can easily overrule any decision those jurists make there is little controversy or need for debate in their appointments. Thus, McConnell’s restriction of debate is a legitimate timesaving action.
All McConnell is doing is modernizing and streamlining some Senate procedures. Indeed, a Democratic Majority leader would have to do the exact same thing. Notably, it was a Democratic majority leader; former Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who first used the “nuclear option” to kill the filibuster.
Finally, the filibuster is simply tradition it is not law or in the Constitution. Thus McConnell is breaking no law by getting of the filibuster. Instead, the majority leader is trying to help the Senate perform its Constitutionally mandated duty.
Should we Abolish the Senate?
Thus the real problem is not McConnell but the Senate’s archaic and obsolete rules. Moreover, it is easy to argue that we must abolish the Senate because it is archaic, undemocratic, and obsolete.
Notably, former US Representative John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Michigan) wants to abolish the Senate. In fact, Dingell writes “abolish the Senate” in a recent Medium and The Atlantic piece. Tellingly, Dingell was one of the longest-serving Congressmen.
Dingell’s argument is that by 2050, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states. Hence, most Senators (70 of 100) will come from states with 30% of the nation’s population. Thus, Dingell thinks we must abolish the Senate to preserve American democracy.
The Senate No longer represents America
Moreover, we can argue the Senate is already unrepresentative of America. For instance, 58% of Americans oppose President Donald J. Trump’s (R-New York) border wall scheme, Pew estimates.
Yet the Senate cannot overturn Trump’s idiotic national emergency declaration diverting Defense Department money to fund the Wall. To explain, 59 Senators voted to overturn the declaration.
However, thanks to archaic rules, a clear majority of Senators could not override Trump’s veto of a rebuke of the declaration, The New York Times reports. In detail, the rebuke could abrogate Trump’s declaration.
Hence, a minority of Senators can use obsolete rules to thwart the popular will of the American people for blatantly political reasons. Specifically, some Republican Senators are afraid they will lose primary reelections if they fight with Trump.
President Trump is free to take extremist and racist actions because a minority of Senators beholden to radical primary voters is afraid of him. Hence, the Senate is no longer capable of governing, an effective argument for its abolition.
Yes, we can Fix the US Senate
On the other hand, the Senate has been broken before and America fixed it.
In fact, during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the United States Senate was a cesspool of corruption filled with corporate lobbyists, wealthy dilettantes, and blatantly corrupt machine politicians. The Senate was so corrupt because state legislatures appointed U.S. Senators. Thus, anybody with the cash to buy a few state legislators could become a US Senator.
Fortunately, the American people cleaned up the Senate by passing the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913. To explain, the 17th Amendment requires the popular election of US Senators.
The 17th Amendment reduced corruption and broke the power of the state and big city political machines and massive corporations that dominated American politics before World War I. Thus history proves we can fix the US Senate with a Constitutional Amendment.
For example, we could give a state an additional US Senator for every 10 million citizens it has. Thus, California could have six US Senators for its 40 million people. In addition, Texas could have four Senators for its 29.1 million people and five Senators soon.
Fixing the Senate is Hard Work
However, it will not be easy because it requires a vote of two thirds of the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to amend the Constitution. In addition, two thirds of the state legislatures can call a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments or write a new Constitution.
Obviously, small state legislatures and Senators will not vote to reduce their power. Yet the 17th Amendment shows it is possible to fix the US Senate and Congress by Amendment. For instance, most Americans probably thought an elected Senate was impossible in 1900, yet they had one just 14 years later.
An amendment to abolish or reform the United States Senate will involve a lot of hard work and many bloody political battles. However, I think it is inevitable because of America’s changing population.
McConnell is Reforming the Senate
Until then, McConnell is doing us all a service by trying to make the Senate work. Notably, McConnell’s reforms will make it easier for the Democrats to pass legislation and appoint judges when they control the U.S. Senate.
In fact, all McConnell is doing is trying to bring the US Senate’s operations into line with most of the world’s legislatures. Specifically, McConnell is making it possible for the Senate to pass legislation and make appointments with a simple majority vote like the US House of Representatives does.
Moreover, you can make a good argument McConnell is trying to make the Senate work like the Founding Fathers intended. Notably, the founders did not write the filibuster into the Constitution, so there is nothing sacred about it.
Hence, what McConnell is really destroying is the mythical US Senate that exists only in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and other old movies. Since the Senate was never “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” McConnell is destroying nothing.
Instead, McConnell is making long-overdue reforms that could make the Senate run a little more smoothly for a few years. Unfortunately, McConnell’s wise and commendable efforts are a stopgap measure that does not address the real problem; the Senate’s increasingly unrepresentative nature.