April 12, 2024

discharge petition pathway to bipartisanship

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
A discharge petition pathway to bipartisanship
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Is bipartisanship finally at hand? After all, it never occurred to the Founding Fathers it would be otherwise. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, knew there would be blocs made up of like-minded senators and representatives, but he assumed the makeup of those blocs would change from bill to bill. He did not anticipate political parties, and he certainly failed to foresee that Article I Section 5 of the Constitution would undermine the entire idea of bipartisanship. The clause: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings …”
          That simple clause allowed Congress to rule that the leader of the House and the majority leader of the Senate could prevent bills from coming to the floor even when a bipartisan majority favored them.
          However, the self-regulating Congress also passed a rule known as a discharge petition. Although rarely invoked, it is currently on the table.
          A critical piece of national security legislation just passed the Senate with 22 Republicans joining almost all Democrats to provide military assistance to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, and humanitarian aid to Gaza, which most lawmakers in the House would also support if the Speaker of the House allows a vote, which he says he will not.
          This is nuts. And it is not just Democrats speaking truth to power; it is some Republicans too. And for the first time in a long time, they are talking about taking joint action with a discharge petition.
          It normally requires 218 signatures to bypass the Speaker and bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Anticipating a situation just like this, with national security issues at stake, Democrats filed the required paperwork for a petition last May, wording it so the right bill could be dropped in at the right time.
          It is ready to go now that critical aid to allies like Israel and Ukraine require urgent action, an on-the-ground reality exemplified by the sudden Ukrainian retreat from Avdiivka due to a lack of artillery ammunition. It is a bloody victory handed to Vladimir Putin at a critical time in that war that is certain to have global repercussions from Europe to Asia.
          Now, if all 213 Democrats voted in favor of the discharge petition, they would only need four Republicans to reach 217 (due to three vacancies in the House), but that is easier said than done. Three Republicans opposed the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling it a stunt, and they would likely sign on with the Democrats.
          But Democrats will need more than just the three because some Democrats oppose sending Israel more aid without appending conditions on how it might be used in Gaza.
          There are also more hurdles down the road for a discharge petition that are built into the process. But if it works, and a piece of legislation gets a vote that it would not otherwise have gotten, this could be a roadmap for the remaining year of this Congress, and beyond.
          It allows like-minded members on both sides of the aisle to move forward with legislation by sidelining the hard right in this case, and maneuvering around the Speaker, a very weak Mike Johnson, R-La.
          It would also preempt Donald Trump’s opposition. The former president is aligned with the anti-Ukraine caucus in the Senate – Senators J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton – who represent the Trump wing at a time when the power of Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, is waning.
          Unless the pro-Ukrainian forces in the House and Senate mobilize, the national security bill is dead on arrival in the House no matter how great the need in two ongoing wars, and no matter how much suffering in Gaza could be alleviated with a U.S. aid package.
          There is a roadmap that could bring the Madisonian ideal to fruition. States are the laboratories of democracy, and New Hampshire is at the forefront of a reform that allows every bill to receive an up or down vote on its legislative floor. This is fundamental democracy, and it is high time the U.S. Congress took note and allowed our senators and representatives to fulfill their constitutional duties and vote.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2024 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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