The Filibuster Vs. The Filibuster, Hagel Edition

As a coda to these two pieces, here’s a straightforward way to ignore all the noise about whether Republicans did or didn’t filibuster Chuck Hagel and sort out what really happened on the Senate floor this evening.

Yes, in every technical sense, this was a filibuster. Republicans objected to an up-or-down vote, then withheld their votes to prevent Democrats from forcing an up-or-down vote, which means Hagel isn’t on a glide path to getting an up-or-down vote. Filibuster.

But in a spirit-not-letter sense, what Republicans are doing is much more like a traditionally defined filibuster than what we’ve all come to describe as a filibuster over the past few years.These days, when we say filibuster we mean the minority has defeated a bill or nominee that has majority-but-not-supermajority support in the Senate. But the filibuster as commonly understood is an effort by the minority to extend debate or consideration of an issue even if a majority of the Senate is ready to put it to bed. That’s basically what happened today. Republicans say they’re not ready to end debate on Hagel’s nomination yet, but that in about 10 days, they’ll be prepared to see him confirmed.

You may find that annoying, unnecessary, disingenuous, wasteful, pick your adjective. But it’s a lot less disruptive to the functioning of the Pentagon than if they’d filibustered Hagel the way they filibustered the DREAM Act or the way they’ll likely filibuster the Democrats’ plan to pay down the sequester.

Which is to say if you’re describing what’s happening to Hagel as a filibuster, it’s important to be clear about your terms.