For the last couple of days we’ve been talking about the Repubican efforts to suppress the vote in the aftermath of the 2020 election. The Democrats have the perfect response with the “For the People” Act, but they have to get around the filibuster first.
Ah, the filibuster.
The filibuster has been a problem for quite some time. I wrote about it way back in 2013.
At that time I noted the history of the filibuster and how Strom Thurmond famously filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes.
Now, that was a filibuster!
(Okay, it was for a terrible cause, but at least Thurmond put his money where his mouth was.)
Over the course of the last half century, there were three important changes made in the filibuster:
- Congress lowered the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths of Senators present and voting to pass a cloture vote.
- Congress passed laws that limited filibusters on certain kinds of bills, including budget reconciliation bills, fast track consideration of trade acts and votes related to the war powers act (because these were all “must pass” legislation).
- The Senate began to allow Senators to put “holds” on legislation by “threatening” a filibuster, instead of actually having to get up and keep the floor by talking.
It’s this last change that proved to be an effing disaster. It was intended to relieve Senators from some of the discomfort and annoyance of having to actually filibuster something instead of just placing a hold on it.
Since then, the filibuster has been eroded, first by the Democrats under Obama when Mitch McConnell used it to block just about every federal judicial appointment, and then by McConnell himself so that he could get the conservative justices that he wanted on the Supreme Court.
Now, the Democrats are threatening to eviscerate it completely so that they can get things like the “For the People” Act signed into law.
McConnell has, of course, threatened to turn the Senate into “scorched earth” terrain if the Democrats revoke the filibuster.
Here’s one of the ironies about the filibuster: it can be changed with a simple majority vote, because the Senate rules themselves can be affirmed with a simple majority vote.
(We’ll be looking at how to reform the filibuster tomorrow.)