Something About Dana Milbank

One of the most entertaining, yet simultaneously most stupidly dangerous, maneuvers in news and commentary media is trying to make a point while pretending to offer serious analysis. The obvious response to Dana Milbank’s incendiary, idiotic reflection on the U.S. Senate is to simply shrug and wonder why The Washington Post consents to publish such trash.

It would be nice to say: Okay, Dana, you’re on: If you’re wrong, will you quit your job at WaPo and never write political commentary again? Except, of course, we can’t expect that kind of integrity from Milbank, and, quite truthfully, we shouldn’t.

He’s not actually a reporter, or even an “opinion writer”, anymore. He is a craftsman of sorts, though, scrawling out columns that, hopefully, will attract readers and get his newspaper some attention.

Dana Milbank“Congress is broken,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday before holding a party-line vote that disposed of rules that have guided and protected the chamber since 1789.

If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House.

Right. Whatever you say, Dana. Because a Senate chamber in which the Minority Leader filibusters his own bill, freshman backbenchers stage a coup in the House of Representatives, power players boast of their bad faith, and Republicans flee their own policies because it’s more important to bring the president to failure than actually serve the nation isn’t already a macabre exercise in dysfunction and futility.

Where it gets even more laughable—at least, until the living implications of such rhetorical slapstick intrude—is the next two paragraphs, where Milbank attempts to pantomime some manner of reasonable political analysis:

Democrats were fully justified in stripping Republicans of their right to filibuster President Obama’s nominees — yet they will come to deeply regret what they have done.

Certainly, Republicans have abused the dilatory tactics that Senate minorities have, for centuries, used with greater responsibility; they seem intent on bringing government to a halt. And the Senate in 2013 is hardly a healthy institution. Yet it has achieved far more than the House — passing bipartisan immigration legislation and a farm bill and working out deals to avoid default and to end the federal government shutdown — largely because, until Thursday, Senate rules required the majority party to win votes from the minority.

The problem with that analysis is that it is not true. And the mistake is so apparent that it would be catastrophic for Milbank to claim he didn’t know. To the other, there really isn’t much of a price to pay for someone like Milbank when he gets caught lying.

The reason, according to Milbank, that Democrats will regret this maneuver to clear the way for presidential appointments has to do with legislation?

Wait, wait, wait. Consider Richard Taranto, confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circut. In 2010, President Obama nominated Edward C. DuMont to this bench; Republicans blocked that nomination for eighteen months until it was withdrawn. Next up, Obama nominated Taranto, who was then blocked for seventeen months by Senate Republicans. One would expect such serious commitment to blocking nominees would result in a contentious confirmation vote. In Taranto’s case, when the filibuster ended as part of a deal to avoid the so-called “nuclear option”, nobody voted against him. So what was all the fuss about?

Meanwhile, Republicans accuse the president, in performing his constitutionally prescribed duties of appointing people to certain service, as court packing. The absurdity of that argument ought to be obvious, especially in light of the sudden Republican assertion that, despite what the Court itself says about its backlog, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its vacant seats filled. And here we can look for a test of sorts. Republicans have been blocking Patricia Millett, who served in the Solicitor General’s office under presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush.

Indeed, it is hard to determine just what the Republican objection is in Millett’s case. That is, we might read reports, like Alexander Bolton’s for The Hill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Senate’s leading critic of the Affordable Care Act, denounced a vote Thursday to prohibit filibusters against appellate court nominees as a scheme to save the healthcare law.

“The heart of this action is directed at packing the D.C. Circuit because that is the court that will review the lawless behavior of the Obama administration implementing ObamaCare,” he said.

—and wonder, perhaps, why we’ve never heard a reporter ask someone like Sen. Cruz, “Okay, just how is the president trying to pack the court?”

Would Cruz denounce the Constitution?

Or when Bolton wrote—

The Senate voted to change the chamber’s rules to exempt executive and most judicial branch nominees from filibusters, effectively lowering the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes. The modification does not affect Supreme Court nominees.

—where was the rest of the reality? “The Senate voted to change the chamber’s rules … effectively lowering the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes—from its prior fifty-one vote threshold..”

The only real question here is how the filibuster is used. The routes around the obvious paradox are few and treacherous: A political party asserting that government does not work is going out of its way to prove the thesis. It is as if they’re disappointed that the ship of state has not struck the proverbial iceberg, and so will try to dynamite the hull.


While there is legitimate concern that the filibuster now faces “terminal decline”, the issue that gets lost in all this back and forth is the question of how the Republican escalation of gridlock in recent years affects the nation and its people.

You know, people? Remember them?

If this was an abstract competition with trophies or belts or whatever at stake, that would be one thing. But the pugilistic spectacle on Capitol Hill has real stakes. Milbank frets over how the end of appointment filibusters might affect legislation? “If it was possible to make things even worse in Washington,” he writes, “Reid just did it.”

We should probably, then, consider some important legislation. Like, say, the PPACA. The Vitter Amendment? Republicans are supposed to be furious at OPM for finding a way around a drafting error. Yet legislators of both parties looked to the White House, because they knew they could not get the fix through Congress, largely because of House Republicans.

Or some might point to a thing known as the family glitch, which does appear to need some legislative tinkering. It seems absolutely ridiculous that any Republican should complain about this outcome when they’ve been refusing to fix the legislation because they are so focused on defunding and repealing the entire PPACA.

Underpinning Milbank’s critique is a presupposition that nothing has changed in recent years. But it’s not like objecting to a judicial appointment of a former state attorney general who sees no relevance of consent in sexual intercourse; Judge Pryor did, in fact, get his vote.

Interestingly, once Democrats lost their filibuster fight in 2005, they played ball.

And it’s not like Obama has nominated to the Supreme Court a lawyer who doesn’t know what’s in the U.S. Constitution.

As much as Republicans might wish to make the judicial filibusters about Obamacare, how does that apply to filibusters occurring before the law was ever passed? Or that have nothing to do with the PPACA? We must be cautious in assessing the objection; is it genuine, or just the latest twist in an ongoing pattern?

None of this seems to matter to Milbank, who offers exactly zero consideration for the people hurt by Republican stonewalling. This is all about the art of the game.

Very well. It’s a new prescription for democracy and leadership, and perhaps Milbank is right. Perhaps the best thing for the nation is that parliamentary decorum should trump real human stakes. Because, you know, between people and pride, there really isn’t any question where Milbank stands.

We should not really complain that Milbank hasn’t any constructive words toward a solution. After all, that’s not his job.

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