Opinion: Jim DeMint: The most undemocratic senator?

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The Times has long opposed filibusters and holds in the Senate (yes, even during the Bush years) on the grounds that both procedures are fundamentally undemocratic and require a level of mutual respect that no longer exists in Congress. Recent examples of such procedural abuse abound in Congress; a particularly egregious case was when Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) placed secret holds on 70 of President Obama’s nominations to win terms more favorable to his state on an Air Force contract to build aerial refueling tankers. Shelby’s obstructionism was undemocratic, but his reasons for holding Obama’s nominations hostages were clear.

Not so with Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican threatening to effectively shut down Congress until Election Day in November by placing holds on all legislation not cleared by his office by the end of Tuesday. Politico reports:


South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Bret Bernhardt, DeMint’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail to GOP aides that his boss would place a hold on all legislation that has not been cleared by both parties by the end of the day Tuesday.

Any senator can place a hold to block legislation — and overcoming that would require the Senate to take time-consuming steps to invoke cloture, which would require 60 votes.

With the Senate slated to adjourn Thursday until after the elections, DeMint’s stance could mean trouble for Democrats if the two parties don’t quickly agree on a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30. And that could mean the demise of a slew of other stalled and largely noncontroversial bills that both parties are looking to clear before Election Day.
Filibusters require at least some unity among the minority party (and perhaps a few sympathetic Democratic senators); holds, on the other hand, have the potential to turn Congress into a sort of legislative dictatorship. DeMint’s action serves no purpose other than to make him the most powerful man in the Senate, even denying his own minority leader Mitch McConnell the ability to negotiate with Democrats.

DeMint just became the poster child for killing holds.

-- Paul Thornton