The theatrics reached a new crescendo Thursday when Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confronted each other over Reid’s effort to change the filibuster rules in ways that would strip the GOP’s ability to block confirmation of executive branch nominees and that could ultimately weaken the minority party’s ability to slow the majority agenda.
Reid’s move provoked some of the most personal attacks two Senate leaders have leveled against another in decades; Reid described McConnell as untrustworthy, while McConnell countered that the Nevada Democrat would go down in history as the worst Senate leader ever.
Suddenly, the world’s greatest deliberative body just isn’t that much fun anymore.
“I miss it like an abscessed tooth,” former senator Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), a 24-year veteran, said on a recent visit to the Capitol.
The dysfunction fever is so strong that Reid and McConnell relented to a rank-and-file request to set up a rare meeting for senators of both parties Monday night in the Old Senate Chamber.
Those working at the last-gasp filibuster compromise fear that if they fail, the Senate will put itself on a permanent downward spiral later this week.
“There’s no doubt that it’s harder and it’s more partisan,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has spent the past few days talking with senators and White House allies hoping to hatch a compromise on Senate rules. McCain has succeeded twice before at reaching a compromise to avoid partisan rule changes, first in 2005 and again this year.
“Each time we come closer and closer to having this happen,” McCain said Friday.
Interviews with more than a dozen current and recently retired senators paint a mostly dismal picture of life in the Senate. There is a growing sense of despair among the rank-and-file senators, who privately grouse that the two leaders, despite many similarities in style and background, have become so distrustful of one another they barely speak to each other, except for small talk about their shared love of the Washington Nationals.
One GOP senator last week pleaded with McConnell to reach out to Reid to establish some regular channel of communication, maybe a biweekly breakfast, to try to solve their problems. McConnell declined, saying he simply could not trust Reid, according to the Senate Republican, who asked for anonymity to speak about the relationship.