Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune hits some kind of a new bottom in the debate on the filibuster with a “bipartisan” op-ed column by former Vice President Walter Mondale and Republican former Minnesota Senator David Durenberger. (Where is Durenberger now? Durenberger is now chair of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas College of Business.) When last seen in the pages of the Star Tribune this past October, Durenberger was endorsing John Kerry for president:
For people who cannot afford the health insurance they need, for people whose access to care is threatened, the issue of which presidential candidate is most likely to come to their aid is their most important national security issue. It is the national security position on which President Bush and Sen. Kerry differ most and the one on which Kerry has the clearer vision for restoring security to all Americans.
So far as I can determine, Durenberger holds himself out as a Republican solely for the purpose of advancing the Democratic issue du jour — bipartisanship a la Star Tribune! It’s a beautful thing.
Today Mondale and Durenberger hold themselves out as a bipartisan team supporting the filibuster for judicial nominations in the Senate: “Preserve senate rules, filibuster and all.” The column is so full of nostalgia and reveries that it’s a bit hard to locate the argument, but I think this paragraph is it:
Today, as it has been for 200 years, an individual senator may talk without limit on an issue; and others may join in, and they may continue to press those issues until or unless the Senate by 60 votes ends that debate and a vote occurs. No other legislative body has such a rule.
The imputation of an ancient lineage to a 60-vote filibuster rule is of course flatly mistaken. The 60-vote rule derives not from the days when “Thomas Jefferson first wrote the Senate’s rules,” but rather from 1975. Surely Mondale remembers; he was a member of the Senate who led the fight in favor of reducing the vote necessary to end a filibuster from 66 to 60. Or has he forgotten? (See here: “With civil rights legislation primarily in mind, [Mondale] led a movement in 1975 to change the Senate cloture rule in order to make ending a filibuster easier…”).
The filibuster rule has of course been the subject of occasional but profoundly important alteration. See John Eastman’s NRO column “Filibuster preservation.” Much more could be said on the historical vagaries of the filibuster. Most recently, Martin Gold and Dimple Gupta have explored the history of “the constitutional option” in a lengthy law review article (available here in PDF).
In 1975 Mondale appears to have been the Senate’s foremost advocate of reforming Senate rules by majority vote (see here and here). Why? Because he was an opponent of the filibuster. Or has he forgotten?
The utter shamelessness of this column is a disgrace not only to Mondale, but also to the Star Tribune. Those vaunted fact-checkers on the Star Tribune editorial page who censored Rudy Boschwitz’s Star Tribune column on Sandy Berger must have worked overtime to flyspeck this piece of work. Good job, guys!
UPDATE: Mondale speaks on the record (the Congressional Record, that is), 1975:
“It seems to me that a not-so-subtle difference, a profound different [sic], between 66 2/3 percent and a simple majority could be the different between an active, responsible U.S. Senate and one which is dominated by a small minority.”
Cong. Rec., Jan. 17, 1975, p. 759. And yet again:
“May a majority of the Members of the Senate of the 94th Congress change the rules of the Senate, uninhibited by the past rules of the Senate? I firmly believe that the majority has such a right — as the U.S. Constitution, the precedents of this body, the inherent nature of our constitutional system, and the rulings of two previous Vice Presidents make clear.”
Cong. Rec., Jan. 17, 1975, p. 758. Walter Mondale and the Star Tribune are two disgraceful “that was then, this is now” peas in a pod.