Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced today that he plans to place a “hold” on Fed Chair nominee Janet Yellen. By doing so, Paul sets himself up to perform another filibuster as he did against the nomination of CIA head John Brennan last February. It’s not clear at all that Paul will filibuster Yellen if Harry Reid ignores his “hold” and proceeds with the nomination. Paul’s demanding a vote on his bill to audit the Fed, something that his father pushed for years.
A filibuster will be another negative mark against the Republican party as Americans believe more and more that the party is unable to govern. This will lead many in the party to push him to allow her nomination to go forward. If the establishment comes out strongly in favor of allowing her to proceed, Paul will have a tough decision to make.
One argument against a filibuster is that Janet Yellen would be the first ever women chairman of the Fed and filibustering her would look terrible. It’s conventional wisdom that the Republican Party has a gender problem. Women don’t like the GOP. If the party cannot find a way to reverse that description, it will have a hard time taking back the presidency in 2016. That means it will have to nominate a candidate who has a strong track record on gender issues, or at least not a bad one. By filibuster Yellen, Paul reduces his chances of being that person. Not just will Yellen be the first woman to head the Fed, she is unquestionably qualified, has a huge amount of experience and has a terrific track record. Paul does not doubt any of that, of course. He simply wants a vote on his bill. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the optics of his actions and those optics aren’t good. He’ll be filibustering the most-qualified Fed Chair nominee in recent history, who also happens to be the first woman nominee.
Except that doesn’t matter. Few issues affect a general election. A filibuster against a Fed nominee three years earlier will almost certainly be meaningless. Nearly half the country doesn’t know who Yellen is. That number will certainly rise, but most people vastly underrate rate the importance of the Federal Reserve. They don’t care who runs the place.
On the other hand, a filibuster offers Paul a chance to keep pace in the race for Tea Party support. The Tea Party is having a collective orgy over Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tx.) filibuster* and government shutdown. Paul smartly avoided that fight and thus hasn’t infuriated the establishment, but it did allow Cruz to seize control of the right wing. Paul needs to strike back and this offers him a rare opportunity where the issue before the Senate relates directly to a topic he’s passionate about. He’s doesn’t get many chances where he can draw national attention to audit the Fed. Like drone strikes, this is an issue where Paul is the leader. It’s perfectly timed for him to demonstrate to the Tea Party that he is equally as defiant as Cruz is and will fight tooth-and-nail against the Obama administration.
Cruz earned Tea Party support for his government shutdown antics, but lost the establishment. Rand Paul still has that support, but he has to compete with Cruz in the primary. If he can earn an equal support from the Tea Party as Cruz does, it will set him up to be the senate leader for the Republican nomination. But if the establishment becomes enraged at Paul for filibustering Yellen, it will put him in the same position as Cruz and be a boon for the Republican governors eying the presidency. Paul has a tough decision to make.
*I know it was technically not a filibuster. Whatever.