In a panel discussion on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher Friday night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow forcefully confronted the GOP’s latest Senate leader over his party’s unprecedented use of the filibuster this Congress.
“Republicans are filibustering everything,” Maddow told former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who retired in 2007. “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s being used more frequently than itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ever been used in American history before, and Republicans should answer for that, because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a really stupid way to run the country.”
The audience erupted in applause and cheers.
Frist wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t offended, repeatedly grinning while Maddow was criticizing the filibuster and even responded, “I agree,” at times. But he did echo the time-tested defense of the tool, that its purpose is to “empower the minority” and forbid the majority from exploiting them.
Maddow wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t having any of it. “People just want Republicans to not … put a filibuster on every single vote of consequence,” she rejoined. “Every single one.”
More applause. More cheers. No comeback from Frist.
According to the Associated Press, Republicans have used the filibuster “at a record-setting pace” this Congress, including for uncontroversial legislation that overwhelmingly passes.
In February, six Senate Republicans who unsuccessfully filibustered the jobs bill turned around and voted for it, raising questions about their motives for using the procedure.
Maher argued that President Barack ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s call for expanding offshore oil drilling just weeks before the Gulf spill broke out was a politically-motivated attempt “to get a couple of Republican votes” on energy legislation and thus stave off a filibuster.
“The whole reason Obama was coming out for more drilling was as a sop to the conservatives,” Maher said, “which would not be necessary if we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have this filibuster nonsense.”
When Frist said the filibuster could be bypassed, citing health care reform, Maddow noted that such a scenario could only occur when the reforms in question are “directly related to the budget.”
Frist’s response raised the eyebrows of the panelists and drew laughs from the crowd. “In the Senate, you can do anything, by the way. You can do anything that canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be done,” he said, sounding almost frivolous.
The panelists also discussed the estate tax, the midterm elections, and Rush LimbaughÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fourth marriage. It was the season finale of the popular HBO series, which returns September 17.