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 SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar 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 ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children 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 InsleeSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Decentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response Social distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis MORE mentioned it when asked how he would address climate change, saying “first by taking away the filibuster from Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE, to start with.” 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill 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 SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE (I-Vt.) has described himself as supportive of “filibuster reform,” while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? 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 TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report 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 UdallDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.M.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus 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 KaineBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner 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) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package 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 ReidGOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Winners and losers from Super Tuesday 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 HironoOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak 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.