Despite Jeff Flake’s Pleas for Normalcy, GOP Assault on Institutional Norms Rages On

Forty-eight hours removed from Senator Jeff Flake’s indictment of Trump on the Senate floor, the GOP assault on institutional norms continues.

“None of this is normal.”  Flake said. 

The yearning for normalcy is a curious plea coming from a member of the political party that has been systematically bulldozing any and all norms that stand in its path for decades as a means to achieve its insurgent agenda.

Cross-party coalitions, which had succeeded in their ability to govern responsibly and effectively for decades, have been intentionally eliminated from governance by the Republican Party. Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives, and only Republican Speakers of the House, have been exploiting an informal governing principle known as “majority of the majority” rule. The “majority of the majority rule”, also commonly known as the “Hastert Rule”, declares that the Speaker shall not bring any bill to the floor for a vote that does not have majority support within his or her own party, even if a cross-party coalition of Republicans and Democrats together would have enough votes to pass it. The brazenly partisan rule is intended to keep Democrats from passing bills with the support from a minority of Republicans. Hypothetically, a bill could have 74% support of House members, but be denied a vote because 51% of Republicans did not support it.

The “majority of the majority rule” was temporarily abolished after the 2006 election when Democrats took control of the House and Rep. Nancy Pelosi extended an olive branch declaring she would be "the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Democrats.” Current Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, has assured the Republican caucus that he would apply the “Hastert Rule” and as of today he has not violated it.

Countless other congressional norms have been bent and broken. Bills are no longer written in bipartisan committees. Opportunities for Amendments have been nearly eradicated. Conferences and hearings are not held. Bills are being written by Republican Party leaders behind closed doors. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abandoned all senatorial procedural precedents in his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. McConnell and a select group of Republican Senators wrote the repeal bill in secrecy, bypassed the Committee on Health and refused to hold a single hearing. Thankfully, the disastrous repeal bill, which would have kicked 22 million Americans off of health insurance, died on the senate floor.

The informal procedures governing the approval of Supreme Court nominees have been done away with. In March of 2016, on the same day Justice Antonin Scalia died; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that he had no intention of confirming or even holding a hearing for any nominee chosen by President Obama. The Republican controlled Senate blocked hearings for 10 months, disregarding their constitutional duty to hold hearings and vote to confirm or reject a nominee.

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.” Mitch McConnell said at a campaign stop in 2016.

Earlier this year, Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to take Scalia’s seat on the court. In retaliation for McConnell’s 10 month block of President Obama’s nominee, Democrats attempted to filibuster Judge Gorsuch. In response, McConnell invoked the “nuclear option”, an ostentatious term which simply meant changing decades’ old Senate rules to allow McConnell to do whatever he wants. McConnell is now under pressure from President Donald Trump to do away with the legislative filibuster. Given the recent history and current trajectory it seems as if it is only a matter of time before the legislative filibuster is also done away with.

Presently, we are waiting on Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley to make a determination on the long honored legislative procedure of ‘blue slipping’. The informal blue slip rule is a custom that allows home-state senators veto-power of judicial nominees for lower courts in their jurisdiction. Upon nomination, both senators from a nominee’s state receive a blue slip upon which they would submit either a favorable or unfavorable opinion of that nominee. If one of the senators returned an unfavorable blue slip, the Senate judiciary committee would not move forward to vote. Surprising to no one, McConnell has made it clear that he believes the ‘Blue Slip’ custom should no longer prevent committee action on a nominee, but ultimately that decision is up to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley.

It is unclear which norms the GOP would hesitate to trample on, but a call to return to normalcy would be a welcomed one. Unfortunately, Jeff Flake’s call for normalcy only addresses the embarrassing behavior of Trump and not the extremist partisanship of the Republican Party.



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