Want to really get Mitch McConnell’s blood pumping? Pick your favorite cliché about time being the enemy. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.) Feel free to quote anyone from Charlie Chaplin to Evita Peron to Jim Croce. Now text or tweet that nugget right on over to the Senate Majority Leader’s office. The unflappable McConnell may not show his agita, but I guarantee you the swift and ruthless running of the clock is among his least favorite topics these days.
Of all the hurdles confronting lawmakers with big plans, time may be the most vexing. President Trump is all over the Republican Congress to Make America Great Again right now. (“Enough all-talk no-action,” he reportedly told his members Wednesday at their retreat in Philly.) But no matter how much the new president fancies himself a Man of Action––and no matter how fired up the majority is to realize its conservative vision––there is only so much anyone can do to speed things through Congress, especially in the Senate. (Witness the not-so-swift progress of Trump’s Cabinet picks.) Talking with Republican folks on the Hill in recent weeks, they invariably cited time as the biggest impediment to getting stuff done.
This is, to some degree, the way the Senate was designed to roll. The rules of the upper chamber aim to keep the legislative process slow and de-li-ber-a-tive. (Just moving a bill into conference committee requires three separate motions, any or all of which can be filibustered.) This means that savvy minority leaders who know how to work the rules have a near-infinite array of tools for bogging down Senate operations. The big question then for Chuck Schumer & Co. is how aggressively they are willing to drag their feet––and how much they can get away with before the majority hits back.