News outlets warn that Senate Republicans could retaliate for filibuster changes — with more of the obstructionist tactics they’re already using

Media organizations need to stop treating McConnell like a sincere person, and explain how hollow his rhetoric obviously is

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered a floor speech on Tuesday, threatening to turn the chamber into a “100-car pileup” if Democrats were to alter the filibuster rules, which Senate Republicans have used to require a 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation.

But mainstream media need to do a better job of explaining a key point: Not only is the Senate already a “pileup” because of McConnell, but Republicans are already using the additional saboteur’s tactics that he is threatening to supposedly unleash if the filibuster is changed.

Politico wrote on Tuesday: “McConnell knows the ins and outs of Senate rules better than anyone. In an institution that operates by unanimous consent for everything — from turning on the lights, to allowing senators to give floor speeches or speed through the customary reading of lengthy legislative text — McConnell can slow down everything with one simple demand: Require quorums for everything. And he signaled he will.” (Emphasis in the original.)

In fact, Republicans have already exploited the ability of an individual senator to gum up the works — in exactly the ways described above. In the run-up to passage of President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief bill, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) forced Senate clerks to read out loud through the entire 628 pages of text.

At the time, Politico’s own coverage of the stimulus bill had explained: “Republicans are planning to make life as excruciating as possible ahead of passage.” So how is McConnell’s latest threat to make the Senate become more dysfunctional really any threat at all, since it’s already been going on?

Other major outlets also failed to explain this context in coverage of Senate Republicans’ latest threat. Reporting on McConnell’s comments, The New York Times wrote: 

The Senate operates under arcane rules that are often bypassed by the use of what is known as unanimous consent agreement where no senator objects. Mr. McConnell threatened that if Democrats made significant changes to the filibuster rules, Republicans would deny consent even on the most mundane of matters and require senators to be present and voting to do virtually anything, effectively bogging down the Senate.

Bloomberg made a similar mistake in covering McConnell’s speech, while also adding another example: “Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell reminded Democrats that a single senator could prevent the chamber from convening before noon, require every bill on the floor to be read in full before debate, or bar noncontroversial nominees from moving through with speed.”

Just as a reminder, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s nomination was delayed for a week by a single Republican senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, until Garland was finally confirmed by a margin of 70 votes to 30.

In addition, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) placed an individual hold on the confirmation of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who was more widely opposed by Republicans. Though the nomination was delayed, Mayorkas was eventually confirmed by a margin of 56 votes to 43.

And McConnell’s history of deliberate political obstruction for its own sake during the Obama years, including abusing the filibuster rules in order to foster government dysfunction which the voting public would blame on the Democratic president rather than congressional Republicans, has been well-documented.

Now, Republican senators are already invoking their powers to deny unanimous consent, “bogging down the Senate” even when the final voting outcomes are assured. This makes McConnell’s whole threat for Republicans to somehow start doing these things rather redundant — especially when his entire career of political obstruction is really the main issue at hand — a point that mainstream media outlets should be doing more to explain.