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Unreal: Senate Democrats Just Killed Anti-Putin Sanctions, Thanks to...a Filibuster

Am I awake? The Democrats just spent five straight years screaming about the malign influence of the Kremlin and collectively freaking out over the previous president's chummy (and worse) rhetoric vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin. The Russians have now amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border and may well invade any day, so Sen. Ted Cruz drew up a bill to slap sanctions on an oil pipeline that Putin desperately wants to become operational as soon as possible. Proponents of the bill argued this would send a tough message to Russia, offering a pungent and early taste of even more crippling, painful sanctions that would follow a potential invasion. It was reported earlier in the week that the Biden State Department had dispatched officials to the Hill to lobby against the sanctions.

Let's pause right there. Just for a moment, please imagine if it had been the Trump administration (whose policies were actually rather tough on Russia) doing precisely the same thing, for precisely the same reason (presumably to allow space for diplomatic efforts to prevent war without preemptive sanctions further complicating the situation). How would the Democrats have reacted? How would the media have covered it? An astounded senior Senate GOP aide messaged me last night: "Didn't Democrats spend an entire impeachment trial shouting that helping Ukraine was the paramount goal of our foreign policy? Did I hallucinate that entire month?" Rhetorical questions, all. In any case, the Biden administration's lobbying worked – at least to a point. A bipartisan majority of senators voted in favor of imposing the sanctions, but that wasn't sufficient for the bill to pass. How could this be? 

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Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a GOP-led effort to impose sanctions on a Russian natural-gas pipeline amid deteriorating talks with Moscow over its military buildup along Ukraine’s eastern border. The nearly party-line vote, 55-44, came after an aggressive effort by the Biden administration to limit Democratic defections on the legislation, which the White House viewed as a bid to undercut its strategy to deter a Russian invasion. In the end, six Democrats — many of them vulnerable to GOP challengers in November — and all Republicans but one backed the legislation, falling short of the requisite 60 votes...Despite their previous support for sanctioning Nord Stream 2, most Democrats sided with the Biden administration in opposing Cruz’s legislation

Count 55 in favor, including six Democrats, with 44 opposed. That's...a majority, is it not? In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to proceed to and/or pass most legislation. In short, Senate Democrats – led by Chuck Schumer – filibustered the sanctions bill, killing it with a minority of votes. To be clear, taking advantage of the 60-vote threshold to kill legislation (which is how the "filibuster" is colloquially used) isn't unusual. It's how the Senate operates. And Democrats engaged in hundreds of filibusters over recent years, when they were in the minority. But it is mind-blowing – genuinely mind-blowing – that Schumer decided to lead a filibuster this week, while he is actively trying to kill the super racist filibuster. President Joe Biden gave his rotten speech supporting this power grab just a few days ago. Barack Obama exploited the occasion to write his first post-presidency op-ed, urging senators to jettison the tool, having prominently championed the demagogic lie (at a funeral, classily) that the filibuster is a racist relic: 

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Biden's anti-filibuster speech was Tuesday. Obama's anti-filibuster essay was published online Wednesday night. On Thursday, Senate Democrats...filibustered a Republican-sponsored bill to undermine Putin (and a fossil fuel pipeline!) with sanctions. I can't believe this is real, but it is. Point and laugh at these ridiculous, unserious, hypocritical people. Then vote them out of the majority. And no, don't tell me this is "different" because Democrats are only seeking a "voting rights" filibuster carve-out. Nobody believes such a limitation would survive. Once the legislative filibuster is gone, it's gone. That's why Senate Democrats demanded a "firewall" be constructed around the legislative filibuster back when Republicans controlled the government. It was a critical constitutional "guard rail," they argued. Ending it would represent an even bigger "doomsday for democracy," to use Schumer's exact words, than the doomsday they themselves triggered the last time they used a 'nuclear' rules change to forever alter the filibuster.

Yet here they are, loudly agitating to push another nuclear button and destroy the filibuster once and for all, only briefly interrupting this effort to, um, mount a quick filibuster against a majority-supported bill they wanted to stop. Breathtaking. Their anti-filibuster crusade has failed, of course, thanks to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema standing tall and declining to change the position they've held consistently. But my goodness, this episode has been ugly and revealing. On that score, I'll leave you with a snippet of Peggy Noonan's column panning Biden's speech: 

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It is startling when two speeches within 24 hours, neither much heralded in advance—the second wouldn’t even have been given without the first—leave you knowing you have witnessed a seminal moment in the history of an administration, but it happened this week. The president’s Tuesday speech in Atlanta, on voting rights, was a disaster for him. By the end of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s answering speech on Wednesday you knew some new break point had occurred, that President Biden might have thought he was just crooning to part of his base but the repercussions were greater than that; he was breaking in some new way with others—and didn’t know it. It is poor political practice when you fail to guess the effects of your actions. He meant to mollify an important constituency but instead he filled his opponents with honest indignation and, I suspect, encouraged in that fractured group some new unity. The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend. It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels...By the end he looked like a man operating apart from the American conversation, not at its center. This can be fatal to a presidency.

I'll leave you with typically-chill Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse getting conspicuously acidic, buttressing Noonan's thesis. Quote – "The president of the United States called half the country a bunch of racist bigots.... He doesn't believe that. This was a senile comment of a man who read whatever was loaded into his teleprompter." 

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