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Time To End The Filibuster? Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Weighs In

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during his portrait unveiling on Capitol Hill on Dec. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during his portrait unveiling on Capitol Hill on Dec. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
This article is more than 3 years old.

With Kimberly Atkins

Is it time to end the filibuster, the requirement for a supermajority of 60 votes to pass legislation or confirm presidential nominees in the Senate? We hash it out.


Harry Reid, former Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada. (@SenatorReid)

Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University. Former consultant to the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus and former senior adviser to Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chuck Hagel.

From The Reading List

The Hill: "Strange bedfellows oppose the filibuster" — "President Donald Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) agree on one thing: the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate. And now former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has lent his weight to that demand.

"Progressive groups, commentators and some Democratic presidential candidates are pushing this view. They argue that even if a Democratic president is elected in 2020 and the party controls the Congress, the Democratic agenda will be unattainable if the filibuster remains in place. This is because a 'cloture motion' necessary to cut off a filibuster requires 60 votes under most circumstances and Senate majorities rarely include 60 senators.

"Warren has said, 'When Democrats next have power, we should be bold… we should get rid of the filibuster.' Recently, Reid has written, 'The future of our country is sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster… I am now calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in all its forms.'

"President Trump has repeatedly demanded an end to the filibuster. In December, in pursuit of funding for a border wall, he pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use the 'nuclear option,' a controversial parliamentary ploy to eliminate, by simple majority vote, the filibuster on all legislative matters. Trump tweeted, 'Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!'

"Such bipartisan resolve might be welcome if the objective were not so misguided. It is the 60-vote supermajority requirement which makes the filibuster such a potent driver of compromise. In order to reach 60 votes, it is necessary to seek some support from the opposite side of the aisle. This requires communication, negotiation, and compromise. This is in the DNA of the Senate.

"The foundational pillars unique to the Senate are the protection of minority rights to speak and to offer amendments. In recent years, because of the intense partisan polarization, the filibuster has been frequently abused. The solution is not to rewire the Senate rules. Eliminating the filibuster would, in fact, exacerbate the polarization."

New York Times: "Mitch McConnell: The Filibuster Plays a Crucial Role in Our Constitutional Order" — " 'You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.'

"That was my warning to Senate Democrats in November 2013. Their leader, Harry Reid, had just persuaded them to trample longstanding Senate rules and precedents. Now that some Democrats are proposing further radical changes to the Senate’s functioning, it is instructive to recall what happened next.

"To confirm more of President Barack Obama’s controversial nominees, Democrats took two radical steps. First, since the nominees had proved unable to earn the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, Democrats sought to change Senate rules so that ending debate on most nominations would require only a simple majority. Second, lacking the two-thirds supermajority needed to change the rules normally, Democrats decided to short-circuit standard procedure and muscle through the new rule with a simple majority as well — the first use of the infamous 'nuclear option.'

"Republicans opposed both moves on principle. Strong minority rights have always been the Senate’s distinguishing feature. But when appeals to principle fell on deaf ears, I tried a practical argument. The political winds shift often, I reminded my Democratic friends. I doubted they’d like their new rules when the shoe was on the other foot.

"Unfortunately, Senate Democrats bought what Senator Reid was selling — but buyer’s remorse arrived with lightning speed. Just one year later, Republicans retook the majority. Two years after that, Americans elected President Trump. In 2017, we took the Reid precedent to its logical conclusion, covering all nominations up to and including the Supreme Court."

New York Times: "Harry Reid: The Filibuster Is Suffocating the Will of the American People" — "I am not an expert on all of government, but I do know something about the United States Senate. As the former majority leader, I know how tough it is to get anything through the chamber, which was designed to serve as the slower, more deliberative body of the United States Congress.

"But what is happening today is a far cry from what the framers intended. They created the Senate as a majority-rule body, where both sides could have their say at length — but at the end of the day, bills would pass or fail on a simple majority vote. In their vision, debate was supposed to inform and enrich the process, not be exploited as a mechanism to grind it to a halt.

"The Senate today, after years of abusing an arcane procedural rule known as the filibuster, has become an unworkable legislative graveyard. Not part of the framers’ original vision, the modern filibuster was created in 1917. The recent use of the filibuster — an attempt by a minority of lawmakers to delay or block a vote on a bill or confirmation — has exploited this rule, forcing virtually all Senate business to require 60 of the 100 senators’ votes to proceed. This means a simple majority is not enough to advance even the most bipartisan legislation.

"Republicans over the past decade — knowing their policies are unpopular and that obstruction benefits them politically — perfected and increased the gratuitous use of the filibuster. Even routine Senate business is now subject to the filibuster and Republicans’ seeming obsession with gridlock and obstruction."

Anna Bauman and David Marino produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on August 26, 2019.



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