Yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) made the extraordinary demand that every single piece of legislation in the Senate would be blocked by his office unless it had been preapproved by his own staffers. As Roll Call reported, “Democratic and Republican aides alike were stunned, arguing that DeMint had essentially made a unilateral decision to end legislative activity in the Senate.”
At a fundraiser for Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck yesterday afternoon, ThinkProgress interviewed several GOP Senators about DeMint’s move to singlehandedly take control of the chamber. DeMint himself told us that his crop of candidates, like Buck, would support his efforts if they are elected to the Senate. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the chairman of the GOP committee tasked with electing more Republican Senators, did not find anything wrong with DeMint’s undemocratic move to seize control of Congress. Asked about DeMint’s unilateral power grab, Cornyn simply smiled and said that he “certainly think[s] it’s a good idea” because it would give more time for lawmakers to review bills:
TP: I have a quick question about Senator DeMint. What do you think about his unilateral hold of all the bills in the Senate before they’re reviewed by a member of his staff.
CORNYN: Well, I think it’s important for every member of the Senate to review legislation before it passes by unanimous consent. There’s a lot of garbage that gets through that should be stopped, certainly ought to be reviewed. I certainly think it’s a good idea to look at it, to read it, know what we’re voting on before it passes.
TP: But what do you think about the leadership structure if just one member can hold up the entire Congress essentially, one member could just have a whim and shut everything down, right?
CORNYN: Well, what creates the pressure is, we’re at the tail end of the session. A lot of people like Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi want to get out of town and a lot of folks want to go and campaign. A lot of this stuff should have been taken care of earlier in the year.
Cornyn appears to be weary about picking fights with DeMint. Earlier this year, DeMint publicly challenged Cornyn’s power as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and declared that he would be picking his own ultra-conservative candidates to run for office. For instance, Cornyn funneled money to his own candidate in Colorado, Jane Norton, who later lost to DeMint’s candidate, Ken Buck. While Cornyn initially tried to support his own candidates, he was eventually steamrolled by DeMint’s allies in the Club for Growth, a Wall Street front group, FreedomWorks, and other lobbyist-controlled conservative organizations.
As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser wrote in a post yesterday, DeMint can get away with this stunt because the Senate’s rules are ripe for abuse. By exploiting the rules, DeMint can force up to 60 hours of uninterrupted debate before a final vote. Using this tactic, DeMint can require over two and a half years to deliberate just the 372 bills already passed by the House since August. “In other words,” Millhiser explained, “there is simply not enough time to get more than a fraction of the Senate’s business done if a minority is determined to do everything they can to block progress.” Regardless of national security interests, national emergencies, or really any matter confronted by Congress, DeMint wields ultimate power — while Cornyn and the GOP leadership is too afraid to stand up to him.