Billionaire buys seat

Practical Idealism: Seeking a balance between what can be done and what should be done in the political landscape today



Dylan Bryant, Reporter

On Feb. 6, billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 51-50 vote. The historic vote, requiring a tiebreaker cast by Vice President Mike Pence, is evident of a new way of governance in the Senate, where the minority party is absolved of any power whatsoever.

The Senate is considered to be the greatest deliberative body in the world. Part of this tradition is the body’s roots in the Roman Senate. This body, from which our upper house of legislature draws its name, would designate issues of importance to be debated, nonstop, for hours on end, until the body reached a unanimous consensus.

This is because, while the body could have ruled by brute majority rule, its purpose was to deliberate and find consensus. This was the original purpose of our Senate as well, a purpose which has been eroded over time, and is now entirely abandoned.

The first signs of this erosion came during the George W. Bush years. Senate democrats filibustered 10 appellate court nominees in that era, an unprecedented move. In order to avoid changing the filibuster rules, a group of 14 moderate senators known as the “Gang of 14” colluded to render these filibusters ineffective.

Things have escalated. President Donald Trump has told the Senate GOP to “go nuclear” and change the existing filibuster rules to silence the minority party with 51 votes, as opposed to 66. This means Democrats will have no chance of stopping Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. This also means one of the most celebrated traditions of the United States legislature, the filibuster, will die, and with it, any sense of deliberation or consensus-building in that body.

Further evidence exists in the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ family has donated an excess of $200 million dollars to the Republican party. She has paid every Republican sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has been an advocate of Charter School systems that have devastated communities in New Orleans and Detroit. She is the most unqualified nominee to any cabinet level position the Senate has ever considered, according to Senator Al Franken. Despite this, and that two Republican Senators defected to vote “no”, The GOP overrode the essential duty of the body to advise and consider these nominations by breaking the tie vote.

One of the most frightening actions by the Senate majority has been the censure and silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren. On Feb. 7, Warren was reading the testimony of Coretta Scott King to the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the 1986 nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to a district judgeship when she was silenced and told to sit down for violating Senate Rule XIX, ‘impugning the motives’ of another senator.

This is unprecedented. If the minority party is not allowed to speak, and 100-year-old rules to prevent fistfights on the floor of the Senate are used to silence opposition, we are headed for the darkest era in Senate history