Dems wary of killing off filibuster

Democrats are wary of calls to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster if they retake the Senate in 2020. 

The filibuster is quickly becoming a divisive topic in what’s expected to a crowded Democratic presidential primary, which already includes several senators. 

A coalition of progressives is trying to make it a wedge issue, arguing it should be done away with if Democrats take the majority because it would stand in the way of a Democratic president getting signature legislation passed through Congress. 

ADVERTISEMENT

But several Democratic senators are cool to the idea. They worry that taking the dramatic step would effectively defang the minority party and freeze any hope of bipartisanship. 

They also think the change would turn the Senate into the House, where the majority completely rules.

“The Senate is the Senate. I served in the House, I don’t want to serve in the House again,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “There comes a time when the Senate has a responsibility to protect the minority.” 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners MORE (D-W.Va.), asked if he would support getting rid of the legislative filibuster, also quickly shot down the idea. 

“Never,” he said. “It’s a function of our presence of the Senate basically trying to bring this country together and keep it together.” 

The fight comes as Democrats roll out myriad big idea proposals, including a single-payer health care system often referred to as “Medicare for all” and a Green New Deal that would pump money into the creation of green jobs and policies to reduce climate change. 

Those advocating for the end of the filibuster say such bills will be dead on arrival in the Senate even if they are passed by the House. 

Even if Democrats are able to win back the chamber in 2020, they are unlikely to win support from Republicans to get 60 votes on many measures.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ezra Levin, the co-executive director of Indivisible, said on Thursday that the “Green New Deal will never happen while the filibuster lives.” 

“Believing you can pass the Green New Deal without axing the filibuster is a little like believing climate change will go away on its own,” he added in a string of tweets

The procedural fight kicked into high gear late last week after Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE (D-Mass.) said that nixing the 60-vote legislative filibuster should be “on the table” if Democrats win back the Senate and the White House in the 2020 elections. 

“You keep it all on the table. Don't take anything off the table,” she told Politico

Other 2020 contenders have not gone so far. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign T.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — CBO officials testify on pros and cons of 'Medicare for All' | Booker vows to form White House office on abortion rights | Measles outbreak spreads with cases now in half the country MORE (D-N.J.) said that he would “personally resist” any attempts to get rid of the filibuster. 

“My colleagues and I, everybody I've talked to, believe the legislative filibuster should stay there,” he said. 

That brought a brushback from progressives. The website Think Progress wrote a headline about the comments that stated: “Democratic Senator Cory Booker promises to sabotage the Democratic Party’s legislative agenda.” 

It’s not just progressives who have discussed getting rid of the filibuster. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE has repeatedly urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight MORE (R-Ky.) to kill it off, arguing it was keeping Republicans from enacting their agenda. 

“Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!” Trump said in a tweet late last year, referring to a Senate rule that would be used to end the filibuster.

McConnell, a Senate traditionalist, has repeatedly said that he does not have the votes within the caucus to end the filibuster. 

The Senate has made changes to its filibuster rule in recent years. 

Democrats, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.), nixed the 60-vote threshold for most nominations in 2013, requiring that a nomination only get a simple majority to break a filibuster. Republicans got rid of the same hurdle for Supreme Court nominations in 2017. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE (D-N.Y.) — who would presumably be majority leader if Democrats took back the chamber — has expressed regret that Democrats triggered the nuclear option in 2013. 

“I argued against it at the time. I said both for Supreme Court and in Cabinet should be 60 because on such important positions there should be some degree of bipartisanship,” Schumer told CNN in 2017. 

Some Senate Democrats have pitched a rules package during previous Congresses that would have included changes to the filibuster, like getting rid of the filibuster on motions to proceed. 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info Democrats warn Trump may soon push through Saudi arms sale Senate panel rejects requiring Congress sign off before Iran strike MORE (D-Conn.) said that he would be open to changes to the legislative filibuster and noted that roughly 45 Democrats backed changes pitched by Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Park Service plans to pay full-time staff through entrance fees | Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax | Interior chief takes heat for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs MORE (D-Ore.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info Senate panel rejects requiring Congress sign off before Iran strike Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change MORE (D-N.M.) in 2013. 

“I’d take a look at it. You know, I’ve always thought that our Founding Fathers are probably rolling in their graves watching how hard we’ve made it to pass legislation. They set up a system of government that was already designed to be intentionally difficult to change, we’ve made it even harder,” he said. 

Twenty-eight Democrats currently in the Senate signed a letter to McConnell and Schumer in 2017, after Republicans got rid of the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, supporting keeping the legislative filibuster. 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Senate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families MORE (D-Va.) said on Thursday that while he supported getting rid of the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominees and lower court picks, “the 60 vote requirement [for legislation] serves an important purpose. … I am not yet convinced we need to make that change on legislation.”

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOil companies join blitz for carbon tax Mnuchin says carbon capture tax credit guidance will be out soon Mnuchin signals administration won't comply with subpoena for Trump tax returns MORE (D-Del.), who helped organize the 2017 letter, said progressives who want to get rid of the filibuster are “wrong.” 

“The strong temptation of the opportunity to achieve some short-term legislative gains will be outweighed in the long term by losing the one barrier that prevents the Senate from allowing whatever passion is currently running through the House and the presidency from becoming law,” he said. 

Asked if he thought the caucus would support getting rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, he added: “President Trump thinks it’s a great idea to get rid of it. Perhaps progressives should think that over.”