The Senate's 2nd most powerful Democrat just savaged the filibuster

CNN's Chris Cillizza explains how the "nuclear option" could change the rules of the Senate and make it easier to stop a filibuster.

Posted: Mar 18, 2021 12:31 PM
Updated: Mar 18, 2021 12:31 PM

Count Dick Durbin among the growing chorus of voices on the liberal left who believe the time has come to jettison the Senate's legislative filibuster.

The Illinois Democrat, who also serves as the Senate Majority Whip -- the No. 2 leadership position in the party -- went very public with his issues with the way the filibuster is being used in the modern Senate during a fiery speech on the floor on Monday.

Here's the key bit:

"Today, nearly 65 years after Strom Thurmond's marathon defense of Jim Crow, the filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy. The filibuster is still being misused by some Senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by strong majorities of the American people. This is what hitting legislative rock bottom looks like. Today's filibusters have turned the world's most deliberative body into one of the world's most ineffectual bodies."

"This is what hitting legislative rock bottom looks like!"

Durbin made clear that he is open to reforming the filibuster rather than getting rid of it entirely -- proposing that if a senator wants to block a vote on a piece of legislation, he or she should be required to hold the Senate floor for as long as they possibly can.

Which is what most average Americans believe how the filibuster works right now! (Most peoples' conception of the filibuster comes from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," if we're being honest.) But that's not actually how the filibuster works in the modern version of the Senate. These days a single senator can keep the Senate from trying to invoke cloture -- a fancy word that simply means ending the Senate's unlimited debate and proceed to a final vote -- with simply the threat of a filibuster. As in, a senator can simply indicate that he or she would filibuster a certain piece of legislation in order for it to gum up the works.

As The Washington Post's Philip Bump wrote in January:

"In practical terms, filibusters these days are only rarely hours-long riffs driven by passion for a cause. They are much more frequently hand-wavey threats to offer such a speech, with the end game of forcing legislation to meet a supermajority standard before passage."

The filibuster has been eroded in the past decade -- first by Democrats under Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who opened Pandora's box in 2013 when he invoked what was then known as the "nuclear option" -- eliminating the need for 60 votes to end debate on all presidential nominations other than Supreme Court justices. On those nominations, a simple majority was all that was needed to proceed to a final confirmation vote, transforming the Senate, at least in part, into a majority rules body similar yo the House.

When Republicans retook the Senate majority in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell showed that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, further undermining the filibuster by including Supreme Court nominees in Reid's previous changes. That move, which meant that a simple majority of senators could end a filibuster, allowed McConnell to confirm three Supreme Court Justices in President Donald Trump's four-year term: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Which brings us to this moment, with Democrats, again, in the majority and with a Democrat in the White House in the form of Joe Biden.

Liberals, having watched Trump (and McConnell) fundamentally alter the ideological makeup of the most powerful court in the country for a generation, want Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York) to move to get rid of the filibuster entirely -- including on legislative matters.

"Preserving the filibuster is not worth letting millions of people in this country go hungry, sleep in their cars, or struggle to afford baby formula," tweeted New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last month.

The problem? Democrats don't have the votes, at least not yet.

In order to change the Senate rules, they need all 50 Democrats to back such a move. And at least two Democrats -- Sens. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) -- have said they don't support the elimination of the filibuster.

Manchin said back in July 2020 that eliminating was the filibuster was "bullshit" and he continues to insist that he opposes such a move. However, in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" earlier this month, Manchin seemed open to what Durbin backed in his speech: Forcing a senator to hold the Senate floor for as long as he or she possibly can.

"If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk," Manchin said. "I'm willing to look at any way we can, but I'm not willing to take away the involvement of the minority."

And here's the latest statement from Sinema on the issue: "Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it's meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be: a place where senators come together, find compromise and get things done for our country."

In addition, Biden, himself a long-serving senator before winning the White House, has voiced opposition to elimination of the filibuster. "The President's preference is not to get rid of the filibuster," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month. "His preference is not to make different changes to the rules, to the filibuster rules."

Despite that opposition, there's no question that pressure is building on the likes of Manchin, Sinema and even Biden to reconsider their views on the filibuster. Why? Because, with a Democratic-controlled House, a Democratic President and a Democrats in control of the Senate -- admittedly solely because Vice President Kamala Harris breaks 50-50 ties -- many liberals view these next two years as a unique moment to push long-hoped-for legislation.

That includes gun control legislation, which has already passed the House, aggressive efforts to slow climate change and policy proposals designed to counter Republicans efforts at the state level to limit voting rights. The House has already passed HR1, which would usher in a series of election and voting reforms.)

"There's no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights," said South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the number three ranking Democrat in the House and its most powerful African American member. "That just ain't gonna happen. That would be catastrophic."

Durbin's vociferous argument in favor of changing (or ending) the filibuster will further amp up attention on the issue. Will it change the minds it needs to? That's the big question.

For his part, McConnell strongly warned Democrats that Republicans will grind the Senate to a halt if the filibuster rules get changed.

On Tuesday, McConnell laid out a conservative agenda that Republicans would push the next time they take control of Congress and White House, most of which Democrats would vehemently oppose -- like defunding Planned Parenthood and adding sweeping restrictions against abortion.

The pendulum would swing both ways, "and it would swing hard," he warned.

Terre Haute
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 75°
Robinson
Partly Cloudy
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
Indianapolis
Partly Cloudy
74° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 74°
Rockville
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 73°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
76° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 76°
Brazil
Partly Cloudy
75° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
75° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Partly Cloudy, Warm & Muggy
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

TH Rex drop 11th straight

Image

New mural, honoring veterans, on the way to downtown Terre Haute

Image

The need for plasma donations

Image

Broadband survey results find need of expanded coverage in Knox County

Image

Mental health and sports

Image

Accused Michigan prison escapee arrested in the Wabash Valley

Image

What do the new CDC masking guidelines mean for us?

Image

Kevin talks storms followed by a cool down

Image

Redistricting in Indiana

Image

CDC announces new mask guidelines

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1413490

Reported Deaths: 25847
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook56254010557
DuPage936411321
Will779841042
Lake691321026
Kane60062816
Winnebago34671524
Madison32372533
St. Clair29976526
McHenry29561299
Peoria23690346
Champaign21566158
Sangamon19585245
McLean18846194
Tazewell17470308
Rock Island15375329
Kankakee14741224
Kendall13481100
LaSalle12954254
Macon11177215
DeKalb10270122
Vermilion10224154
Adams9557128
Williamson8117138
Whiteside7244174
Boone693380
Ogle629184
Grundy605579
Clinton590693
Coles5868101
Knox5728157
Jackson543565
Henry515270
Macoupin497090
Livingston494193
Woodford491883
Stephenson488086
Franklin485878
Effingham482674
Marion4761118
Jefferson4662123
Monroe451494
Randolph430387
Lee423754
Morgan412592
Fulton410559
Logan407066
Christian394275
Bureau384987
Montgomery384274
Iroquois329468
Perry328262
Fayette326856
McDonough305851
Jersey278752
Saline270657
Douglas263536
Union249041
Lawrence244627
Shelby235938
Crawford218026
Bond213624
Cass210327
Carroll204837
Pike200353
Ford194050
Hancock193732
Clark190434
Wayne189653
Warren186450
Jo Daviess183524
Richland181440
White180226
Edgar179742
Washington169225
Moultrie167928
Mason163547
De Witt161129
Piatt155814
Johnson154516
Clay154043
Greene152834
Mercer151734
Wabash147612
Massac143240
Cumberland131019
Menard127912
Jasper116818
Marshall110319
Hamilton89516
Schuyler8127
Brown8086
Pulaski7407
Stark66425
Edwards63512
Calhoun5382
Henderson53414
Gallatin5044
Scott5031
Putnam4943
Alexander48911
Hardin39612
Pope3394
Unassigned632432
Out of IL120

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 767409

Reported Deaths: 13980
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1054251805
Lake569191030
Allen42938698
St. Joseph37313568
Hamilton37298426
Elkhart29749470
Tippecanoe23479230
Vanderburgh23201405
Porter19573327
Johnson18822392
Hendricks18072321
Madison13548346
Clark13533198
Vigo12834256
LaPorte12566225
Monroe12546178
Delaware11143198
Howard10672237
Kosciusko9777124
Hancock8740150
Bartholomew8262157
Warrick8069157
Floyd8027182
Grant7366181
Wayne7233201
Boone7184105
Morgan6910143
Marshall6332116
Dubois6274118
Cass6090111
Dearborn601278
Noble599290
Henry5947111
Jackson516377
Shelby510898
Lawrence4922127
Gibson462696
Montgomery458192
Clinton455255
DeKalb455285
Harrison453577
Whitley415745
Huntington415582
Steuben410660
Miami405573
Jasper401155
Knox388391
Putnam385062
Wabash369083
Adams352956
Ripley351271
Jefferson341886
White339654
Daviess3090100
Wells303581
Greene293485
Decatur292593
Fayette286364
Posey281735
Scott280058
LaGrange277572
Clay273348
Washington254037
Randolph247783
Jennings239449
Spencer238731
Fountain235250
Starke229859
Owen222659
Sullivan221343
Fulton208345
Jay202932
Carroll197322
Orange191156
Perry189739
Vermillion180844
Rush177527
Tipton172747
Franklin171935
Parke155216
Pike141734
Blackford138032
Pulaski123648
Newton123036
Benton109715
Brown106043
Crawford105616
Martin92515
Warren87715
Switzerland8348
Union73610
Ohio58111
Unassigned0428