Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton launched a new television ad Thursday that attacks Republican nominee Donald Trump’s messianic claim that “he alone can fix the problems we face,” and then offers herself up as an alternative who will take a more cooperative approach. “I don’t believe that’s how you get things done in our country,” the former Secretary of State says. “It takes Democrats and Republicans working together.”
The nation better hope that Clinton is wrong, however. Because if nothing truly can get done in the United States unless Republicans agree to work with Democrats, America is doomed.
Much of Clinton’s ad refers to a simpler, happier time in America’s past when Democrats and Republicans actually did sometimes come together to pass important legislation. She references a 1997 law signed by her husband, where Republicans agreed to legislation providing health care to millions of children in exchange for a capital gains tax cut, as well as her work to rebuild New York City after the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of the Bush administration.
Her only example of bipartisan cooperation from the Obama years is a nuclear arms treaty that the Senate narrowly ratified during a lame duck session when Democrats enjoyed a lopsided majority. Most of the Republican senators who supported this treaty have since left the Senate.
But Clinton’s stated bipartisan vision simply isn’t how Washington works anymore. Think back to 2011, when Republicans refused to raise America’s debt ceiling, a must-pass bill that wards the catastrophic consequences of a sovereign debt default, unless the White House agreed to significant budget cuts. Over the course of those negotiations, President Obama was willing to give away the farm — offering Republicans over a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, a higher Medicare eligibility age, hundreds of billions more in cuts to Medicaid and similar health care programs, and a reduction in Social Security benefits. But the deal blew up due to GOP opposition to higher taxes.
Not long after negotiations over a “grand bargain” on the federal budget broke down, all eight Republicans seeking the party’s 2012 presidential nomination were asked if they would agree to a “10 to 1” deal where every dollar in additional taxes was matched by ten dollars in spending cuts. Every single one of them rejected the deal. And this was at a time when Republicans spoke of budget deficits as if they were the harbingers of the apocalypse.
Nor is this refusal to strike a deal on spending an isolated incident. As then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) described his party’s strategy during the battle over Obamacare, “it was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.” The way to undermine Obama is to deny him any Republican support, and then to attack him for failing to find bipartisan solutions.
McConnell is himself a kind of wizard, a transformative genius in the field of obstructionist arts. A common metric used to evaluate how often the minority party attempts to halt progress in the Senate is the number of cloture motions filed. “Cloture” is the process used to break a filibuster, so if the minority party frequently tries to filibuster nominees or legislation, more cloture motions will need to be filed to end these filibusters.
Here’s what happened the moment McConnell took over as leader of the Senate minority:
Now, of course, McConnell is the Majority Leader, and his party has the power to halt business entirely in the Senate it it chooses to. The result has been a near shutdown of the kind of business that used to be disposed of as a matter of course. Here, for example, is what happened to judicial confirmations after McConnell took over as Majority Leader, with comparisons to comparable periods in other two-term presidencies:
If anything, this chart understates the extent of Republican Party non-governance under Mitch McConnell. The Senate under McConnell slowed judicial confirmation rates to its slowest pace since the Truman administration, despite the fact that the total number of federal judgeships is now more than three times the number that existed under Truman.
To be sure, it is unlikely that Hillary Clinton actually believes she’s going to find much cooperation from the party of McConnell, Donald Trump, Ken Starr, and Trey Gowdy. Clinton’s appeal to “Democrats and Republicans working together” is most likely a bid for Republican voters alienated by Trump, and not a confession that she is a naif who has no idea what the Republican Party has become.
But the reality is that, if Clinton does prevail this November, then the success of her presidency will rest on her ability to find ways to use her existing authority to act without seeking approval from the opposition party — as President Obama has done on matters such as immigration and climate change. It will also depend upon her appointing justices to the Supreme Court who will not sign on to conservative legal theories seeking to diminish the lawful authority granted to her by preexisting law.
Because if she actually yokes her agenda to her ability to inspire cooperation from Republicans, we already know how that will turn out.