Against Getting Along

One of the common criticisms of President Obama is that he's too aloof and too uninterested in making friends in D.C. to make  to end partisan gridlock in Washington (see Michelle Obama's eye-rolling and John Boehner's speech about Obama trying to "annihilate" the GOP). But the recent deal in the Senate on filibuster reform shows that chumminess isn't working, either.

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One of the common criticisms of President Obama is that he's too aloof, too uninterested in making friends, to make the right connections to end partisan gridlock in Washington. Obama's relationship with House Speaker John Boehner looked totally poisoned Wednesday when Boehner said in a speech that Obama wanted to "annihilate" the GOP. We should have all seen this coming. In The Washington Post last summer, Sally Quinn mourned the end of the traditional Washington social scene, lamenting that Obama's aloofness might not cost him the election: "The Obamas have been roundly criticized for not being part of the Washington social scene. The question is, does it matter? Could Obama win or lose the presidency because he has dissed the Washington community? I suspect the answer is no. It doesn’t matter anymore."

Quinn can stop feeling so sad, because it apparently does matter. On Thursday, we see that in the Senate, longtime Washington hands cooperating. Sadly, they are cooperating to create more gridlock. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are reaching a deal on filibuster reform, and no one expects it to make the Senate a more productive place. Chumminess isn't working, either.

The filibuster was once rarely used, but it has been increasingly used by both Republican and Democratic minorities in recent years, as the chart at right, from HealthCareTrends, shows. (You can find a more detailed, but slightly dated chart at Talking Points Memo.) Reid had threatened the nuclear option -- which would make the Senate run on a simple majority basis, rather than the supermajority that's not in the constitution but has become the rules of the road in recent years -- while others floated ideas like actually requiring senators to speak without stopping on the Senate floor in order to sustain a filibuster, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style. But the deal, according to reporting from The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters and Talking Points Memo's Sahil Kapur, is more like the supersoaker option. The minority party would not have to talk the whole time. And the minority would not be able block a bill from even coming to the floor if the majority couldn't come up with 60 votes to end a filibuster. Some nominations would be expedited. In exchange, the minority is guaranteed two amendments to the legislation. And the minority would still be able to filibuster the final vote on a bill.

It's tough to see this the bipartisan deal to preserve Senate gridlock as the flip side of the coin to all those Obama-doesn't-socialize-like-Bill-Clinton-did stories. (Of course, Bill Clinton was criticized, too, for not socializing with social D.C. back when he was president, too.) Investors Business Daily complained in December 2011. A recent piece of DC gossip revealed Obama hasn't even had the Clintons over for dinner! Rep. Dennis Cardoza's wrote the Fresno Bee saying a "former Obama staffer confided to me that it was clear to him that the president didn't mind giving speeches (lectures), but really avoided personal contact with members of Congress and folks outside the Beltway."  Budget negotiations between Obama and Boehner failed because "the president failed to connect with Boehner," National Journal's Ron Fournier reported earlier this month. Boehner found Obama to be a bad conversationalist, "boring and insulting." Bob Woodward's latest book, The Price of Politics, says debt limit talks broke down in 2011 in part because the White House did not cultivate strong relationships on Capitol Hill.

This is what bipartisan comity gets you, at least on Thursday. Reid and McConnell have come together and found common ground: they both think a little gridlock can be a good thing. McConnell and Reid want to preserve minority rule in the Senate, which helps McConnell now and would help Reid if/when the chamber flips and Republicans win the majority.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.