Schumer says physical requirement for filibustering would make Senate more productive

"If you have to talk, if you have to be on the floor and actually filibuster as opposed to just invoking the rules, you're going to use it sparingly, because you just can't sustain it for every amendment and every minor bills, or frankly for bills that have a large amount of support," he said. "It would be used on major issues, where there's a real division and there's a lot of passion and strong feeling and conviction, as opposed to a simple way, 'let's block everything and tie this place in a knot.' "

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Senate Democrats are considering a rule change to that effect, along with another change that would prevent filibusters on motions to proceed to legislation.

Consideration of these changes drew sharp criticism from Senate Republicans on Monday and Tuesday, in large part because of the assumption that Democrats will have to make these changes by a simple majority vote, rather than a two-thirds supermajority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent considerable time Monday and Tuesday arguing against this plan.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) followed McConnell on Tuesday called it the "nuclear option" and a violation of Senate rules, which he said normally require a two-thirds majority vote for rule changes.

"To suggest a nuclear option by which a mere majority of the body can amend the rules, is itself a violation of the rules," Kyl said. "It's an assertion of power, but as the old saying goes, might does not make right."

But Schumer argued that the changes are needed because Republicans are too often requiring 60-vote majorities for everything from motions to proceed to legislation to judicial nominations.

"The overwhelming fact that hovers over this chamber is that it is broken," Schumer said. "Nobody disagrees with that."

Schumer said that speeding up the process of getting to legislation would likely make it easier for the majority to allow for consideration of more minority amendments, something Republicans have argued for.

Schumer also dismissed McConnell's argument that the Senate rules are fine as they are, and that the Senate only moves at a glacial pace because of the character of its leaders. McConnell's argument reflects ongoing Republican complaints that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not want to work with Republicans at all, which Republicans have said is a factor in their opposition to legislation.

"That explanation doesn't wash," Schumer said in reply. "The amount of good character in this body is probably no different, no more no less, than the amount of good character in previous Senates that were far more functional."