Amid heated debate about doing away with the Senate’s filibuster rule, a proposal so contentious it has been dubbed the “nuclear option,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Democrats should consider abolishing the filibuster if Republicans use it to thwart the Democrats’ priority legislation.
The filibuster rule was originally adopted to give the minority party a stronger voice in the Senate and prevent partisan control of the upper chamber by the majority. The rule essentially requires a super-majority threshold, now at 60 votes, to cut off debate in the Senate and bring legislative bills or other measures to a vote.
While a number of Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), favor keeping the legislative filibuster, progressive groups are pushing for it to be scrapped.
“There’s a lot of progressive groups that have no patience on the filibuster debate,” NBC host Chuck Todd said during the Jan. 24 interview with Durbin, before asking the majority whip for his thoughts on removing the rule.
Durbin said: “The American people want us to take action, action on this pandemic, action on this economy, and on a host of other issues, and if this filibuster has become so common in the Senate that we can’t act, that we just sit there helpless, shame on us. Of course, we should consider a change in the rule under those circumstances.
“But let’s see. Let’s see if we can initiate a real bipartisan dialogue and get something done. That’s the bottom line.”
It comes as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are locked over preserving the filibuster amid discussions to pass a resolution in the Senate that would organize the work of the upper chamber.
Schumer and McConnell started talking earlier this week about a possible power-sharing deal governing daily operations, because even though Democrats have the majority in the Senate since Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote, she can’t be expected to take part in daily Senate proceedings to decide every dispute.
As part of the negotiations around the power-sharing arrangement, McConnell has made a demand for a promise to protect the long-standing legislative filibuster. Schumer is resisting McConnell’s request.
“The American people chose to retire four Republican senators and elect a Democratic majority to this Senate. Senator McConnell’s proposal for how to organize the Senate is unacceptable—and it won’t be accepted,” Schumer wrote in a Jan. 22 tweet.
The filibuster dispute between McConnell and Schumer is delaying the basic organization and work of the Senate as it begins the new year with 50 senators from each party.
McConnell said on Jan. 21, “I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply reaffirm that his side won’t be breaking this standing rule of the Senate,” referring to the filibuster.
Durbin, during the Jan. 24 interview, called McConnell’s demands for the preservation of the filibuster “a non-starter, because if we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day.”
“So here’s the bottom line: If we are going to work in a bipartisan fashion, let’s pass the organizing resolution without the extra McConnell language,” he said.
At a Jan. 24 press conference, Schumer doubled down on his resistance to McConnell’s request to maintain the filibuster.
“Mitch McConnell is not going to dictate to us what we will do. And we will move forward and decide on an organizing resolution … where Democrats make the decisions, not Mitch McConnell,” Schumer said.
As part of their talks on a power-sharing arrangement, Schumer and McConnell eyed a similar deal struck two decades ago when the Senate also had a 50-50 split.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Jan. 22, Schumer referred to that deal, saying that in 2001, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) “came together and agreed on a set of rules to govern a 50-50 Senate. We should follow that precedent.”
“We could organize the Senate today if both sides agree to abide by the same rules as last time. The Republican leader, however, has made an extraneous demand that would place additional constraints on the majority,” Schumer said, referring to McConnell’s insistence on retaining the filibuster.
“Leader McConnell’s proposal is unacceptable.”
McConnell, in a statement, countered by saying: “When Leaders Lott and Daschle wrote a similar agreement 20 years ago, there wasn’t a need to reaffirm the basic standing rules that govern legislation in the Senate. It was safely assumed that no majority would break this rule for short-term gain.”
The Kentucky Republican referred to discussions on the Senate floor surrounding the 2001 power-sharing talks, which “specifically cite the legislative filibuster as an important and unquestioned part of the backdrop that lay beneath the negotiations on the finer details,” adding that it was assumed no one would ever try to remove the filibuster.
“After the fact, Leader Daschle, the Democrat, praised the legislative filibuster as a crucial rule,” McConnell added, noting that President Joe Biden “has praised this distinctive feature of the Senate on many occasions” and Democrats in the Senate relied on the 60-vote supermajority rule extensively when they were in the minority.
In order to remove the filibuster, Democrats would require the support of every member of their caucus, a tall order in the face of a commitment on the part of some, such as Manchin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who in September 2020 came out in opposition to ending the rule.
“I don’t believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it’s often less used now than when I first came, and I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself,” she said.
Biden also remains opposed to ending the filibuster rule, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.