Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress

Democratic leaders are opening the door to eliminating the 60-vote legislative filibuster if they recapture the Senate majority in the 2020 elections. 

The future of the filibuster has emerged as a divisive topic in the crowded 2020 presidential primary field, which includes a half-dozen Democratic senators. Progressives who are pushing to nix it got a boost this week when the two highest ranking Democrats in the Senate didn’t explicitly rule the option out. But even if Democrats won the majority, it would be an uphill battle to get the votes necessary to pass such a controversial rule change.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters this week that while his first focus was on winning back the majority, if his party did “nothing is off the table.” 

“Our first step is to get back the majority, period. Because without it, all will be lost. If we do, we’ll sit down and figure out the best thing to do to get things done, but we have to get things done and nothing is off the table,” Schumer said. 

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told The Hill that he is also “reflecting” on the legislative filibuster. 

“I tell ya, I’m reflecting on it now. This is a different Senate. It is unproductive under the current state of affairs,” Durbin said.

Durbin floated that a change will be “needed from what we’re currently working with” but added, “I don’t know what that is yet.” 

This represents a shift for Durbin. Asked about the issue in February, when it began to creep into the 2020 discussions, Durbin warned that getting rid of the higher threshold would turn the Senate into the House and said “I don’t want to serve in the House again.” 

A spokesman for Schumer, who would presumably be majority leader if Democrats win back the chamber, argued that his statement to reporters this week is “nothing new.”

Pressed about getting rid of the legislative filibuster by reporters in April, Schumer said, “Our focus should be on winning the majority, and we’ll have a nice caucus of more than 50 Democrats, and we’ll decide what to do.” 

The legislative filibuster, which requires legislation get 60 votes before lawmakers can end debate, has jumped into the spotlight as Democrats have rolled out a myriad of big idea proposals including “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal climate change proposal and reforming the Supreme Court by adding extra justices. 

Supporters of eradicating the legislative filibuster argue those proposals would be dead on arrival in the Senate even if they passed the House and that the higher vote threshold would act as a roadblock for a Democratic-controlled White House.

Ezra Levin, the co-executive director of the progressive group Indivisible, characterized Schumer’s “nothing is off the table” remark as big news.

“Huge. Schumer is saying he won’t just let [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] veto everything if Dems take back the Senate in 2020,” he said in a tweet reacting to Schumer’s quote. 

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The filibuster cropped up during the first round of Democratic primary debates when former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro suggested he supports getting rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster if it stood in the way of passing gun control legislation. Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE mentioned it when asked how he would address climate change, saying “first by taking away the filibuster from Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done After police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE, to start with.” 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.) is the only top-tier 2020 candidate who has specifically endorsed getting rid of the filibuster. 

If McConnell “tries to do what he did to President Obama and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster,” Warren said in April.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Briahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' MORE (I-Vt.) has described himself as supportive of “filibuster reform,” while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE (D-Calif.) has described herself as “conflicted.”

It’s hardly the first time the filibuster has been viewed as a hurdle for a president’s agenda. President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE has repeatedly urged McConnell to eliminate the 60-vote threshold, saying that it’s giving Democrats the ability to stonewall his legislative agenda. 

McConnell, a Senate traditionalist, has repeatedly said he does not think the legislative filibuster should be done away with. McConnell has argued keeping the filibuster is important to provide the minority with a voice in the Senate. He's also said his caucus opposes making the change. 

Even if Democrats are able to win back the chamber in 2020, they’ll likely need to win over every, or nearly every member of their caucus to get rid of the filibuster. And that seems unlikely. 

They need to pick up three seats and win the White House to be able to break a 50-50 tie in the Senate, and net four seats, including holding onto Sen. Doug Jones’s deeply red seat in Alabama, to have an outright majority. With the Senate battleground limited to a handful of states, their majority, even if they swept on election night, would be limited to the low 50s. 

Sixty-one senators in the spring of 2017 sent a letter to Senate leaders calling on them to maintain the 60-vote threshold for legislative filibusters. Thirty-two of the signatures came from Democrats. Sens. Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.M.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games MORE (D-Ore.) have previously estimated they had between 48 and 51 votes for a rules change package they pitched in 2013 that would have eliminated filibusters on motions to proceed and motions to go to conference with the House.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (D-Va.) described himself as “reluctant” to get rid of the higher threshold for legislation. 

“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I would be reluctant,” he said. “I think the filibuster has some value in the institution, and I frankly think it … helps protect against an overreaching executive.” 

Even as Schumer and Durbin aren’t closing the door to getting rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, some of their members are. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (W.Va.), one of the Democratic caucus’s most conservative members, said if senators were going to get rid of the filibuster Congress should be unicameral, or one chamber. 

“I would hope that they would not ever, ever consider doing away with the filibuster, which is basically the whole premise of the Senate,” Manchin said. 

He demurred when asked if he knew how many of his Democratic colleagues agreed with him but warned that nixing the 60-vote threshold for most nominations in 2013 had a “disastrous effect” and that doing the same thing on legislation would be “doomsday.” 

Schumer, in 2017, said he regretted the decision by Democrats in 2013 to trigger the “nuclear option” for most presidential nominations. That move was made by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights MORE (D-Nev.). 

“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 said at the time. Republicans subsequently invoked the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees. 

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration Top FBI official advises Congress against banning ransomware payments Democrats criticize FBI's handling of tip line in Kavanaugh investigation MORE (D-Hawaii), considered a favorite among liberals because of her opposition to Trump’s judicial nominees, said, “I’m not particularly in favor of getting rid of the filibuster because that just means majority rule. That’s what happens in the House.”

Asked how Democrats — if they retake the majority — could get McConnell, who would presumably be minority leader, to work with them, she quipped: “Well, maybe Mitch won’t get reelected.” 

This story was updated at 11:47 a.m.