Law professor and eminent constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley is one of the last honest
liberals left in America. His commentaries, whether we agree with them or not, always have a solid foundation in the Constitution and its history, and he is always a civil and respectful opponent in any debate.
So, it was gratifying to see him step-up to defend Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough after she (correctly) ruled that the inclusion of the $15 minimum wage hike in a reconciliation bill violated Senate rules and radical House Democrats, such as Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN-5), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ro Khanna (CA-17) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) demanded she be fired.
Wrote Prof. Turley:
The Parliamentarian’s role is key to a system of orderly legislative process. To simply disregard such rules (and fire those who seek to maintain them) is yet another example of the rage that has replaced reason in our current politics. Byrd was famous for putting the interests of the Senate and the Constitution before his own party. This effort shows increasingly rare such institutional defenders have become in this age of rage.
As Prof. Turley observed, “the use of a reconciliation bill was an effort to circumvent the filibuster and allow a majority vote on the hike. However, by using reconciliation, the Democrats triggered the ‘Byrd rule’ – which limits the type of provisions in the reconciliation process to taxing and spending. The purpose is to limit an add-ons through reconciliation to measures designed to have a direct impact on the federal budget—barring the use of reconciliation to introduce “extraneous” measures. Otherwise, reconciliations could circumvent the normal legislative process and the filibuster option for the minority. The rule allows a senator to object when a reconciliation bill is brought to the floor through a Point of Order on the bill. After the Byrd Rule is raised, the Senate Parliamentarian informs the Presiding Officer on how to rule and the Presiding office conveys that to the Senate. Senators can then vote to overrule the Presiding Officer but the process protects the minority and the parliamentarian by requiring that a vote to overrule secure a three-fifths majority.”
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve had our beefs with Senate parliamentarians, past and present, and have advocated voting to overrule the parliamentarian, and have complained about the way the Byrd Rule has been used, and even suggested getting rid of the Byrd Rule, but the key difference is how we view the process – it’s based on voting, not firing people who give honest but inconvenient rulings.
As Prof. Turley framed the conclusion to his argument:
I will leave the merits of the hike to others. However, the attack on the Parliamentarian, including the call for her being fired, is reprehensible. In a prior column, I wrote how Democrats are adopting the rhetoric and tactics that they denounced in former President Trump. It is also a type of “myside bias” where Democrats disregard any countervailing limits or rules. (They are not alone in such bias. Many of us were critical of former [Republican] Majority Leader Trent Lott replacing Parliamentarian Robert Dove in 2001, a move that Democrats denounced).
It is not just the attacks on MacDonough that are so reprehensible but the failure of many Democratic senators to denounce those calls for her firing and the abusive comments being made against her in the popular press. When the rage of our politics turns on parliamentarians, you know that we have become entirely untethered from our core values.
If the Senate in its wisdom can muster a three-fifths majority the parliamentarian may be overruled, a simple majority could change the rules, but absent that level of support firing the parliamentarian and replacing her with someone who’s a little more go-with-the-flow on all these tedious ‘rules’ issues is a lot like firing the referees in the middle of a football game and replacing them with home team supporters – the home team might win under those circumstances, but then its not a game anymore, it’s a war.