Biden advocates the overhaul of the filibuster
This week, Majority Whip Dick Durbin spoke to the ground with the strongest anti-filibuster speech yet. Talking at length about the return to a speaking filibuster, he said the current procedure had “turned the world’s largest advisory body into one of the most ineffective bodies in the world”.
The filibuster used to require reflection, or at least forced the senator who opposed a bill to speak out in the debate, which sometimes went on for hours. It doesn’t work that way anymore. It only takes a senator to say they are against a bill – they don’t even have to say it on the floor – and they started a filibuster. A bill cannot be developed further in the Senate without 60 senators saying they want it, regardless of whether it is supported by a majority – 59 Senators could support it, but if they can’t find one, they have no opportunity to vote on it. For example, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin teamed up with Republican Senator Pat Toomey to draft a Gun Background Review Bill after the 2012 massacre of young school children at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Republicans blocked it with just 46 votes – a majority of 54 Republican and Democratic senators backed the bill, but it failed. No Republican had to stand on the ground and say why slaughtering young children didn’t require a change that would keep weapons of war out of the hands of local terrorists. You only voted “no”.
So it seems that the Democratic leadership, including Biden, has grown together behind the idea of a speaking filibuster, and that this may have even been negotiated with at least one of the recalcitrant Democrats, Joe Manchin. After his day of obstruction of the COVID-19 Aid Act, Manchin made the rounds of Sunday exhibitions saying he was okay with making the filibuster “a bit more painful, leaving them standing there and talking, ready to look at anyone.” Case we can. “
But here’s the problem: In the interviews that followed over the next few days, Manchin made it clear that he still wants to have a 60-vote lead. He told Politico that there still has to be a 60-vote majority to overcome a filibuster, or some pathway that will force the opposition to deliver 41 votes to keep it going. Senator Kyrsten Sinema goes further and says, “I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate’s work,” including all judicial and executive approvals.
That’s a problem. Yes, it would force Senator Mitch McConnell to make sure he always had 41 Republicans available, but he’s a vicious bastard with enough vicious bastards in his conference to do just that. But democracy will not be restored unless the most basic principle – majority rule – is restored in the Senate.
In his comments, Biden made sure not to say anything about the abolition of the 60-vote demand, as Durbin emphasized in an interview on Wednesday morning. “He didn’t say that, and as a Senate student and creature, he sure knows how to choose his words carefully on the subject. But I think he recognizes the obvious: the filibuster really got the Senate hooked.” Biden was “vague” about exactly what remedy to use, Durbin said, “but that’s fine. I think he recognizes the fact that the filibuster was institutionalized by Senator McConnell. We now accept the premise that everything 60 votes required. “”
It’s an accepted premise – a false one. Even the Capitol Hill press corps, which should know better, is talking about the 60-vote margin required to get something passed as the norm as if it had always been. It is not. When Biden entered the Senate in 1973, the filibuster was a rarity. From 1917 to 1970 there were a total of 49 filibusters. 49 filibusters in 53 years. Since McConnell took over the Republican Senate Conference, there have been an average of 80 votes a year to end filibusters. Not only does this block the legislation, it ties the Senate in knots. Each Cloture vote requires 30 hours of downtime, during which nothing else can be done.
When McConnell threatens, “No one serving in this chamber can imagine what a completely scorched Senate would look like.” It’s not something we haven’t seen before. Which is Durbin’s exact answer. “He’s already done that. He’s proven he can and he will do it again.”
The filibuster fight is going to happen soon so we’ll see how it goes. On Wednesday morning in the Senate, Schumer promised to bring the electoral reform law, the For the People Act, to the ground. The Senate hearing on the bill is scheduled for next week.