John Nichols on filibuster reform; Ari Berman on Obama’s new chief of staff, Bill Daley.


FILIBUSTER REFORM FILIBUSTERED: Filibuster reform has never come easy, and only the most naïve observers ever thought it would be achieved without a fight this year. Senate Democrats who propose to constrain abuses of the parliamentary procedure—by requiring that senators who seek to block action on a bill do so openly and engage in the traditional speechifying rather than rely on secret holds and threats—got a sense of the perilous politics of the reform process when the new Senate was called into session.

For all the talk of rewriting the rules on the first day, majority leader Harry Reid was not going there. Though Reid admits that Senate filibuster rules have been “abused, and abused gratuitously…in truly unprecedented fashion,” indications are that the Democratic leader hopes to cut a deal with his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to place loose limits on the types of bills that can be blocked without creating a “nuclear” confrontation between the two parties. How far Reid will bend, and how far reformers will get, will be defined over the next few weeks.

Conservatives, who just six years ago were talking about having Vice President Dick Cheney arbitrarily alter filibuster rules, are organizing to defend the status quo as nothing less than the intent of the founders. They are, of course, fostering a fantasy. Filibuster reform of the sort proposed by Democratic senators like New Mexico’s Tom Udall and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley are moving the Senate toward more honest debate and strengthening democracy.

But can that truth cut through the spin? The Fix the Senate Now coalition ( is working hard to spread the word. But the volume has to be turned up. The only way that filibuster reform will happen in this Congress is if progressives across the country make this procedural fight central to their activism over the next few weeks. Today’s Democratic senators need to hear, as Democratic senators did in the 1950s and ’60s (when filibuster reformers sought to clear barriers to civil rights legislation), that their base voters recognize the supposedly arcane debate about Senate rules to be essential to the broader progressive agenda.   JOHN NICHOLS

RAHM REDUX: Rahm Emanuel is off and running for mayor of Chicago, but his ghost may soon be making a return to the White House in the form of fellow Chicagoan Bill Daley, whom President Obama is considering naming as Rahm’s replacement as chief of staff. The post is currently filled by low-key Obama aide Pete Rouse.

Daley, brother of outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, was commerce secretary under Bill Clinton, the chief architect of NAFTA, chair of Al Gore‘s 2000 presidential campaign, a top adviser and fundraiser for the Obama campaign and, most recently, Midwest chair of JPMorgan Chase. He shares the corporate centrism of Emanuel and, when it comes to economic issues, may be more conservative. As former AFL-CIO head John Sweeney once said, Daley stood “squarely on the opposite side of working families.”

When Daley was president of telecommunications giant SBC, he lobbied extensively on its behalf. He publicly chided the Obama administration for pursuing health- care reform (he has served on the board of drugmaker Merck), advised the Chamber of Commerce on Wall Street regulation (the Chamber wanted less of it) and reportedly urged Obama’s team to drop the most popular provision of the financial reform bill—the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. When Daley joined the board of the corporate-aligned Democratic group Third Way in July, board chair John Vogelstein said that Daley’s tasks would include “reforming entitlements”—a clever code for cutting Social Security and Medicare. Despite all this, Obama is considering making Daley the focal point of his White House in year three. Didn’t the president learn anything from Emanuel’s disastrous tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

On January 3 Politico reported that Republican House Oversight chair Darrell Issa brazenly asked more than 150 companies and trade associations to specify which regulations and consumer protections they’d like to gut in the new Congress. It was precisely the type of story Democrats should pounce on to paint the GOP as a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America. Instead, the Obama administration is close to appointing a JPMorgan Chase exec to burnish its “pro-business” credentials. Talk about mixed messaging!

In fact, the Obama administration has tried its damnedest to plot the “moderate, centrist course” that Daley accuses it of forsaking—abandoning the public option in healthcare reform, loading up the stimulus with tax cuts, extending the Bush tax cuts, escalating the war in Afghanistan, and stepping away from potentially divisive fights over immigration reform and cap and trade. Indeed, it’s amazing that the administration doesn’t get more credit from the business community for saving the banks, rescuing the auto industry, stabilizing the economy and preventing another Great Depression. What Americans want from the Obama administration is jobs and relief, not another banker running the show.   ARI BERMAN

SCALIA’S CONSTITUTION: With his agreement to serve as the first lecturer in Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann‘s seminars on how Congressional conservatives should approach constitutional issues, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia removed whatever remaining doubt there might have been about the lengths to which he will go to advance ideological and partisan agendas. But the Tea Partisans who are taking their cues from Scalia would be ill advised to take the justice’s counsel when it comes to equal protection issues. Asked by an interviewer about discrimination based on gender and sexuality, Scalia told California Lawyer magazine:

“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” That’s an odd read of the Fourteenth Amendment, which specifically declares that states cannot “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It also raises a question: is Scalia telling us that the Constitution affords no protection from discrimination to Michele Bachmann?   JOHN NICHOLS

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