MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2021
Our elite "journalism" at work: Today, we celebrate the first anniversary of the parliamentary ruling no one can quote or explain.
Everyone has declared that the ruling is very important, but no one can say what it is! In that sense, the episode provides the perfect example of Our Contemporary Elite Journalism At Work, cable news/New York Times style.
Let's be clear—everyone knew, and quickly said, that the alleged ruling was important. The whole thing started on Monday, April 5, when the Senate parliamentarian was said to have issued the ruling.
That evening, Rachel Maddow devoted the first 25 minutes of her "cable news" program to the all-important new ruling. Today, we celebrate the one-week anniversary of that endless, gong-show pseudo-report.
Maddow's baldly stupid report was larded with entertainment filler and filled with self-contradictions. The clowning was general as Our Town's favorite "cable news" star burned away 25 minutes.
That said, by the time Rachel threw to Lawrence, Lawrence was willing to describe what the parliamentarian had ruled. We aren't saying that Lawrence was right, but this is what he said:
O'DONNELL (4/5/21): Good evening, Rachel. And it was wonderful to see your glee at the beginning of your hour tonight, knowing that you had breaking parliamentary news to deliver to America about the mysterious workings of the United States Senate, and getting into it deeply with Adam Jentleson, who's also the guy to talk about that.
MADDOW: Well, I knew you would appreciate me dorking out on Senate rules and procedure because alone among everyone who I know, you are, not only an encyclopedia on this, but also as much of a dork about these things as I am.
But having Adam talk me down a little bit and explain what it means in practical terms was probably good because I was, in fact, giddy.
O'DONNELL: Well, you know, the idea of three reconciliation bills this year, most years they don't have any. I mean, these are not—they're just not things that are used all the time. So here we are, this is unprecedented. And it's going to be exciting to watch.
So cool! Maddow said she'd been "dorking out" about the important new ruling. She was willing to admit that she had in fact been giddy, so thrilling is the new rule.
Maddow was discussing her favorite subject again, as she so frequently does. She even said that one of her guests had managed to talk her down!
Humblebragging lustily, Maddow said Lawrence is as big a dork as she is about these Senate rules and procedures. And according to Lawrence, the parliamentarian had ruled that the Democrats could pass three bills through the Senate this year through the "reconciliation" process—that is, without the possibility of being filibustered.
Since Senate Democrats had already passed the Biden pandemic/stimulus bill through use of reconciliation, this seemed to mean that they would be able pass two more bills through the Senate by "reconciliation" this year.
That's what Lawrence seemed to say. (Later in his program, he explicitly said the parliamentarian had ruled that Senate Democrats "can use the budget reconciliation process twice more this year.")
That's what Lawrence seemed to say. Then, the newly sober Maddow seemed to contradict him, not that anyone noticed or cared:
MADDOW (continuing directly): And it also means that they`re going to have to think about legislation and legislative priorities in a very different way. I mean, if you're honest about the prospect of getting ten Republican votes, it`s never going to happen on anything. That means they now know it's not just one more reconciliation bill, it's three more. That means they need to think about their priorities in terms of what can be passed in a reconciliation bill, which is only a very specific kind of legislation.
According to Maddow, the parliamentarian had ruled that they could pass three more bills by reconciliation this year. That would seem to mean that they could pass four bills in all.
Were these giant dorks contradicting one another, or were they in poorly-expressed agreement? In the clownish realm of corporate cable, no one is likely to care.
Could Senate Democrats pass three bills in all this year, or could they pass three more? The very next morning, the New York Times offered its first report on the parliamentarian's ruling, and that report only deepened the confusion surrounding this important new ruling.
That April 6 report was written by Emily Cochrane. As we noted last Thursday, Cochrane's report seemed to contradict itself at various points. In truth, it made little sense.
One day later, on April 7, the Times decided to try it again. This time, Carl Hulse reported on the important new ruling.
Late in his report, Hulse reported that congressional leaders had previously believed that use of the reconciliation process was "limited to one attempt per fiscal year." (This was a long-standing, common understanding.)
Now, the parliamentarian's ruling had apparently changed that—but how? Given the way Hulse began, he didn't necessarily seem entirely sure. He also didn't cite any specific numbers, the way the two cable stars had:
HULSE (4/7/21): Democrats might not have the votes to gut the filibuster, but they were just handed the procedural keys to a backdoor assault on the Senate’s famous obstruction tactic.
With a ruling on Monday that Democrats can reuse this year’s budget blueprint at least once to employ the fast-track reconciliation process, Democrats can now conceivably advance multiple spending and tax packages this year alone without a single Republican vote as long as they hold their 50 members together. It is a means of weakening the filibuster without having to take the politically charged vote to do so.
Democrats insist that they have made no decisions about how to use the tool.
“It is always good to have a series of insurance policies,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said about the possibility that Democrats could repeatedly duplicate last month’s party-line passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation should they not be able to work out deals with Republicans.
But whatever strategy they employ, it is clear that the decision by the Senate parliamentarian to agree with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, that a musty 47-year-old budget provision could be used more than once in a fiscal year widens President Biden’s path to enacting his emerging infrastructure plan by shielding it from a filibuster if need be.
In fairness, Hulse managed to make our specific statement. According to Hulse, the parliamentarian had ruled that the reconciliation process "could be used more than once in a fiscal year."
That said, was there some upper limit on the number of times the procedure could be used? Maddow and O'Donnell had both seemed to say that there was. Specifically, Maddow had seemed to say that the process could be used three more times this year.
Hulse made no such statement. Instead, he authored a series of murky constructions, never quite nailing the matter down:
He said the Democrats could reuse this year’s budget blueprint "at least once" to employ the fast-track reconciliation process.
He said they could conceivably advance "multiple" spending and tax packages this year using reconciliation.
He referred to the possibility that Democrats could "repeatedly duplicate last month’s party-line passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation."
Hulse didn't state any upper limit on the number of times the Democrats could use the reconciliation process. Not was it altogether clear that he actually knew what he was talking about, especially when he offered this buzzkill much later in his report:
HULSE: Despite the advantages of reconciliation, congressional leaders have been reluctant to rely on it too frequently, because it is so cumbersome and working out an agreement is preferable. It was also thought to be limited to one attempt per fiscal year, so lawmakers deployed it strategically and only for their highest priorities. But Monday’s ruling appeared to lift that restriction, opening the door to much more frequent use at a time when compromise is highly elusive.
Say what? Monday's ruling appeared to lift the previous restriction? Late in his report, Hulse seemed to be saying that he didn't actually know what the parliamentarian had ruled.
We'll note one other striking point about Hulse's report. Last week, we offered this same observation about Cochrane's report the day before:
At no point did Hulse quote any part of the parliamentarian's ruling. At no point did he offer a link to the text of the ruling.
Putting it another way, it didn't seem that Hulse (and Cochrane) had actually seen the text of this all-important ruling! Apparently, they were working from something they'd been told about this all-important ruling. But they didn't identify the source of their understanding, which seemed remarkably murky.
It's now a full week later. We've seen no one offer a journalistically respectable account of what the parliamentarian ruled, though it may be that someone has.
In all honesty, we aren't entirely sure why we should believe that a ruling was issued at all! We've seen no one quote the parliamentarian, and we've seen no one offer a link to the text of what she allegedly said.
Last Monday night, Maddow clowned for 25 minutes about this important new ruling. She burned away mountains of time imagining the way the nation's various dorks had reacted to the ruling. She burned away oodles of time offering stupid remarks about the various words she finds impossibly boring.
Two nights later, she offered a second, wholly incompetent discussion of what the ruling allegedly said. We discussed that gong-show last Friday—and no, it didn't make sense.
Rachel Maddow is a full-blown corporate clown. As a journalist, she's stunningly incompetent, and her work seems to be devolving. In fairness, with respect to the parliamentarian's ruling, she merely did what the Times has done while throwing in oodles of clowning.
Here in Our Town, we've tolerated this sort of thing for many years by now. In all honesty, we're too stupid to notice such things, and the fact is we don't really care.
As explained by NPR: Late last Monday afternoon, NPR's Kelsey Snell reported on the alleged ruling.
Snell behaved in much the way an actual journalist (or person) should. To see what she wrote, you can just click here.