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Chatter Amongst Democratic Senate Leadership On Killing The Filibuster/60 Vote Rule Is Growing

7 min read

Back in April, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D. NY) indicated that he is willing to do this in order to make the Senate work:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer won't commit to retaining the filibuster if Democrats win control of the chamber in 2020, the latest sign of trouble for the Senate's most hallowed — and controversial — tradition.

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have called for eliminating or scaling back the filibuster, and Democratic Party activists are also pushing to end to the practice, which is more than 200 years old.

When pressed on the issue by reporters during a Thursday news conference, Schumer said his only focus is winning the majority, and if that happens, then Democrats can talk about whether to change Senate rules.

“I've always said in terms of the rules and these things, let's first win the majority, then we'll make the decisions and the caucus will come together,” Schumer said.

And today, that idea is getting through to Democratic Leadership:

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told The Hill that he is also “reflecting” on the legislative filibuster.

“I tell ya, I’m reflecting on it now. This is a different Senate. It is unproductive under the current state of affairs,” Durbin said.

Durbin floated that a change will be “needed from what we’re currently working with” but added, “I don’t know what that is yet.”

This represents a shift for Durbin. Asked about the issue in February, when it began to creep into the 2020 discussions, Durbin warned that getting rid of the higher threshold would turn the Senate into the House and said “I don’t want to serve in the House again.”

The Hill also quotes U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D. VA) who is open to some form of rule change while U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D. WV) and Mazie Hirono (D. HI) aren’t there yet. Hirono floated the idea that Mitch McConnell may not be re-elected next year but we’ll see if Amy McGrath (D. KY) can pick herself back up from her fallout or if a stronger Democrat can emerge in Kentucky. But there clearly is momentum for us to win the Senate because Democrat candidates are posting big fundraising numbers. Plus, there’s still plenty of time for some lower-tier Presidential candidates to make the switch to the Senate.

I've been wanting to write more about this for a while now and I promise you I will. It’s been a hectic month for me but getting a Senate Majority has always been my top priority with my diaries. Filibuster Reform has also been my litmus test for the 2020 Democratic candidates. Plus, we could get lucky with our chances in re-election Doug Jones in Alabama and flipping a seat in Kansas with Kris Bobach (R. KS) running for Senate. The truth is we can win a majority but not 60 seats and I wouldn’t bank on McConnell losing re-election just yet. And even if McConnell is back to Minority Leader, don’t count on him ending his obstructionist streak:

Here’s the stark reality: Regardless of who captures the Democratic nomination, and possibly the White House, next year, his or her grand plans will be for naught unless there is a shift in the United States Senate.

There will always be squabbling, showboating and foot-dragging in the upper chamber. That is how the founding fathers wanted it. The current majority leader, Mitch McConnell, however, has devoted much of his career to perfecting the art of obstructionism, weaponizing Senate gridlock like no one before him. He calls himself the “Grim Reaper,” having turned his chamber into a legislative graveyard.

When it comes to putting the interests of himself and his Republican Party over that of the public, he has no scruples. Just ask Merrick Garland.

A telling moment from Wednesday’s Democratic debate was when the candidates were asked how, as president, they would prevent Mr. McConnell from jamming up their Supreme Court nominations like he had Judge Garland’s. None had a good answer.

To be fair, there is no good answer. Restoring sanity to the Senate requires removing Mr. McConnell from power, either by unseating him or by stripping him of his majority.

To control the Senate, Democrats need a net gain of four seats. Already, the fever to dislodge President Trump has complicated this effort as the party has struggled to recruit marquee challengers in possibly competitive states. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was hoping to woo Beto O’Rourke to run in Texas against Senator John Cornyn. He also made early pitches for Gov. Steve Bullock to run in Montana and former Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado. To no avail. The lure of the Senate this cycle cannot compete with the chance, no matter how minuscule, of winning the presidency — or, barring that, the vice-presidential slot or a choice cabinet post.

Schumer, who was a former DSCC chairman, understands the need for wanting to change the rules this time around. While Democrats have been finding some great candidates for the Senate, some of the bigger names are passing because they don’t see the point of working in the branch of Government where nothing gets done. Case in point, Governor Steve Bullock (D. MT):

Some Democrats shrugged off Bullock's pass, arguing that little-known candidates can come from nowhere to win key Senate races. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) was a state senator when he first ran and won in 2006, and he went on to survive two difficult reelection campaigns.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he seemed to understand the ambivalence of people like Bullock because there’s little reason to be excited about the Senate, which he referred to as an “expensive lunch club.”

“I get it, Senate recruitment is hard these days,” he said. “But I think by winning back the Senate we can start to make it work again.”

Of course, Bullock running for the Senate would make that goal a lot more realistic.

If you want to win a Democratic Senate Majority, you have to give candidates a reason to run for the Senate. You do that by having the chamber work so that assholes like McConnell won’t kill any legislation you draft to make the Government work for the people. Schumer and Durbin are both indicating that they are getting that message. In fact, one U.S. Senator who decided to pass on running for President is running for re-election to make the Senate work:

“I do believe,” he said, on the other hand, “that we will never again see a ticket of two white men.”

White men will always have a home in the United States Senate, of course. But to what end? When Merkley described the Senate as a legislative “graveyard,” it sounded like code for eliminating the 60-vote legislative filibuster so that Democrats could pass Medicare for all or a Green New Deal in 2021. But senators across the Democratic spectrum have been hesitant to go there. And, as Merkley told me, he’s not fully there yet, either.

“It’s about creating a conversation among my colleagues saying, we have to be able to act to be a competent legislative body in partnership with the House,” he told me. He said that there were “so many different ways to approach this.” Aside from using the existing resource of budget reconciliation, he said, senators could also look at a proposal he’s been pushing for years: a return of the “talking filibuster” as the minority’s only go-to tool for extending debate.

“You get rid of the [60-vote] supermajority [requirement] on everything except final passage,” he explained, “and then on final passage, if there’s ever a moment in the debate when the debate ends? You go to a simple majority vote.

“It makes it much more difficult and painful to do routine obstruction,” he continued. “The goal is to get back to a point where a supermajority hurdle is rare.” He also wants to clear more floor time for legislation, seeing as how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell devotes most floor time now to confirming nominees. His idea would be to put consideration of nominations on a clock.

But, he cautioned, “I’m not advocating for one particular path to be there.” It’s a conversation!

This would be Merkley’s time to shine. He was able to get Harry Reid to change the filibuster rules on judicial and cabinet nominees during President Obama’s years in office. He can be instrumental in this process as well. In the meantime, let's keep up the momentum to win a Senate Majority. Click below to donate and get involved with these Democrats campaigns:

Jaime Harrison (South Carolina)

Sara Gideon (Maine)

Mark Kelly (Arizona)

MJ Hegar (Texas)

Wilmot Collins (Montana)

Theresa Greenfield (Iowa)

Al Gross (Alaska)

James Mackler (Tennessee)


Teresa Tomlinson

Ted Terry


Dan Baer

Lorena Garcia

Mike Johnston

Alice Madden

Andrew Romanoff

John F. Walsh

North Carolina:

Cal Cunningham for U.S. Senate

Erica Smith for U.S. Senate


Barry Grissom

Nancy Boyda


Amy McGrath

Michael Broihier

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