I’ve been watching Senator Graham lecture the Senate about the power he thinks he has to make sure the Democrats don’t go back to business as usual when it comes to filibustering President Bush’s judicial nominees. I’m unimpressed for two reasons. First, it’s all well and good for Graham to make unambiguous statements after the fact about his right to vote to change the rules during this Congress, but why don’t these forceful statements appear in the document he signed? When push comes to shove, big talk in front the microphones is likely to count for less than the wording of the agreement. Any competent lawyer could have written something like the following language: “Each signatory reserves the right to support a change in the rules at any time in the event that one or more other signatory supports a filibuster that he or she finds, in his or her sole discretion, not to be justified by extraordinary circumstances.” The actual language falls far short of this. Why?
Second, Senator Graham lacks the power to give the Republicans the votes they would need to change the filibuster rule. His vote would leave the Republicans one short. Moreover, I suspect that there are other Republicans who would take Graham’s place if he bolted. One might be Senator Hagel, who may have sat this one out once it became clear he wasn’t needed, in order to preserve his presidential ambitions. Another might be Senator Specter, who may not have wanted unnecessarily to embarrass the leadership, which supported him for Judiciary Committee chairman.
Senator McCain is right about one thing — this deal boils down to trust. I trust the Democrats to behave like Democrats, which means in and unprincipled fashion. And I trust the moderate Republicans to behave like moderate Republicans, which means lots of talk and no action.
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