Talking Points

Lindsey Graham's threat to flee Washington is part of a troubling trend

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has a bright idea for stopping the Democrats' $3.5 trillion infrastructure package. He'll just copy what Texas Democrats have done, and get out of town so that the Senate can't muster a quorum to pass the bill. 

"You got to have a quorum to pass a bill in the Senate," he told Fox News on Sunday. "I would leave before I let that happen."

Graham was probably just being cute, and in any case his scheme would be difficult to pull off: It takes just 51 members of the Senate to reach a quorum, so Graham would need all of his Republican colleagues to join him in order to succeed. But his comments are also a sign of how many GOPers — who so often present themselves as the "more Constitutional than thou" party — have slipped from embracing the vision of the Founders.

In Federalist 58, James Madison cautioned against letting members of Congress use manipulation of quorum requirements to block legislation. "In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed," he wrote. "It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority." It sure seems that Madison, at least, would think it wrong for Graham to get his way by keeping the Senate from doing business.

That brings us back to Texas Democrats, who fled their state to block the GOP-controlled legislature from passing new voter restrictions. Wouldn't Madison frown on them, too? The easy answer — too easy, really —  is that Madison was writing about the federal government and not state governments, so who cares? But the reality is that in the name of defending democracy, Texas Democrats are using anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic tactics to achieve their policy goals. That should be at least a little discomfiting to progressives who have spent the last few months pleading for the end of the anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Consistency is a difficult thing in politics, for both Republicans and Democrats, when the possibility of power is at hand.