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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Liberal super PAC to run digital ads slamming Trump over Medicare comments 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment GOP senator calls for public health emergency over new coronavirus Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum 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 InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE mentioned it when asked how he would address climate change, saying “first by taking away the filibuster from Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE, to start with.” 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected 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 SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.) has described himself as supportive of “filibuster reform,” while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power 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 John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallIt is time for companies and governments to holistically tackle single-use plastics Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-N.M.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyEnvironmentalists, Oregon senators oppose DOT increasing transport of natural gas by rail Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations Democrats conflicted over how to limit Trump's war powers 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 KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Trump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer 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 ReidTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum The Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial 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 HironoDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Democrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on 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.