With budget reconciliations, filibusters, and supermajorities making headlines, In Praise of Deadlock explains the legislative process and its checkpoints, while maintaining a noncomformist respect for the hurdles and hang-ups inherent in the American system. As a practitioner who served for fourteen years as chief of staff to Senators Bill Frist and Pete Domenici, W. Lee Rawls offers a candid perspective on partisan struggle, which he sees as essential to advancing new policy and generating consensus. Such grappling, Rawls concludes, results in a nuanced, durable machine, producing better laws that have benefited from minority input.

W. Lee Rawls, who died in 2010, was chief of staff to the director of the FBI and an adjunct professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. He was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2007.

A book launch event for In Praise of Deadlock was held on October 19, 2009, at the Wilson Center.


Introduction: The American Legislative Process—For Adults Only

1. The Legislative Machine

2. Moving Parts: The Veto and the House Rules Committee

3. The Filibuster and the Minority Tool Kit

4. Legislative Dialectics and the Birth of Reconciliation

5. Legislative Dynamics: Strategic Options and Timing

6. Performance and Parties

7. Prospects


“Lee Rawls has written a book that elected officials and legislative practitioners can relate to. His contrarian approach offers a range of insights not found in the conventional wisdom on the lawmaking powers of Congress.”—Senator Pete V. Domenici, former Chairman of the Senate Budget and Senate Energy Committees

“I have known and worked with Lee Rawls for three decades. He has taken his extensive legislative experience and provided us with a fresh look at how Congress actually works. He is not looking for the reader to agree with him, but rather he is challenging us to think hard about what works and what doesn’t work in the American legislative process.”—Howard Baker, former Senate Majority Leader and White House Chief of Staff

“This book is the perfect primer to understand the major rules, structures, and procedures partisans use to slug it out—and how those can drive the compromises serving the interests of our country.”—John Hilley, Legislative Affairs Director in the Clinton White House

“Leavened with an understanding of both history and contemporary scholarship on Congress, this book makes an original contribution.”—Donald Wolfensberger, author of Congress and the People: Deliberative Democracy on Trial