Senate hopefuls embrace nuking filibuster

Democratic candidates for the Senate are embracing the idea of killing off the legislative filibuster, a sign of the building support within the party for eliminating the rule. 

Doing so was once viewed as an outlier position among Democrats. Now candidates in states that will determine who wins the majority next year say they back at least reforming the rule, which requires most legislation to get 60 votes to clear the Senate. 

“It’s a real sea change within the Democratic Party. It has moved from an issue that used to be seen as being on the left fringes to one that is now pretty much a consensus position, especially among the new members and as you’re seeing now, among the candidates,” said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for pro-rules change group Fix Our Senate.  

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In Florida, Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsDemocratic donors hesitant on wading into Florida midterm fights Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms First polls show mixed picture on Rubio-Demings race MORE (D) talked up the need to reform the filibuster when she launched her bid to unseat Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMilley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R) last month. She doubled down this week, running ads on Facebook urging support for ending the filibuster and writing in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend that it “threatens the freedoms of every American.”

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanHawley endorses Vance in Ohio Senate race Congress should know what federal agencies are wasting  Trump administration trade rep endorses JD Vance in Ohio Senate race MORE (D-Ohio), who had opposed filibuster reform during his unsuccessful 2020 presidential bid, told MSNBC in a recent interview that the Senate is “broken.”  

“I’m sorry it has come to this point, but we don’t have an honest broker on the other side and America can’t wait any longer,” said Ryan, who is running to fill the seat being left vacant by the retiring Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ohio).  

Democratic hopefuls in both Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin have also embraced reforming or ending the filibuster. 

As recently as 2017, dozens of Democratic senators, including now-Vice President Harris, signed a letter urging Senate leaders to protect the legislative filibuster after Republicans nixed the 60-vote hurdle for Supreme Court nominees. Democrats had previously eliminated the use of the filibuster on executive nominations and lower-court judicial picks.  

Ending the filibuster was a point of contention during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with now-President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE facing off with more progressive rivals. 

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But since then, a growing number of Democratic senators have suggested they are open to either reforming the filibuster — by requiring that opponents speak on the floor, lowering the vote requirement or making exemptions for specific issues — or nixing it altogether.  

Advocates believe they are seeing a significant shift after years in which they’ve argued the filibuster obstructs turning Democratic priorities into law. 

“The indisputable fact is that progressives have made massive gains on filibuster reform, climate change and many other issues. The trendline is pointing in our direction. The only question is how long the window for change will last,” Adam Jentleson, a former staffer for onetime Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.), tweeted this week.

Republicans, who hope to take back the Senate majority next year, are highlighting Democratic support for nixing the filibuster and believe it will help their case with voters. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) accused Ryan of “caving to the radical Left” after his MSNBC interview and Demings of “getting in line with AOC and the Squad to support eliminating the filibuster.”  

They’ve also homed in on Sen. Mark KellyMark KellyOvernight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling Businesses want Congress to support safe, quality jobs — so do nearly all Americans GOP sees Biden crises as boon for midterm recruitment MORE (D-Ariz.), Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Hillicon Valley — Majority supports national data privacy standards, poll finds Senator calls on agencies to take action to prevent criminal cryptocurrency use Trump praises NH Senate candidate as Sununu weighs own bid MORE (D-N.H.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), who are each up for reelection. Republicans have focused in particular on Kelly, who hasn’t publicly come down one way or the other on a rules change but told reporters that he’ll look at it as it’s proposed.  

One Nation, an outside group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.), used fellow Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Biden goes after top 1 percent in defending tax hikes MORE’s defense of the filibuster in an ad to pressure Kelly, with the narrator noting that “Sinema says no way. But Sen. Mark Kelly won’t say where he stands.” 

Though the midterm elections in a president’s first term are historically difficult for their party, Democrats think they have a chance of building their Senate majority next year because of a favorable map.

Republicans are defending 20 seats in next year’s midterms compared to 14 for Democrats. Besides Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two states won by Biden, the GOP is also defending open seats in Ohio and North Carolina. 

Democratic senators don’t now have the votes to end the legislative filibuster, but they could if they make gains in the Senate. Besides Sinema, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (D-W.Va.) opposes ending the filibuster. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (I-Vt.), who described himself in a recent MSNBC interview as being “tired” of talking about Manchin and Sinema, acknowledged Democrats were “constrained” by their one-seat majority.  

“We need a hell of a lot more Democrats in the Senate than we have right now,” Sanders said. 

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Of course, ending the filibuster would do little good for Democrats if they lose their narrow House majority. 

Nixing the filibuster in 2023, if Democrats keep the Senate but lose the House, would have almost no practical advantage for Democrats in the short term because House Republicans would be able to act as a roadblock to any of Biden’s priorities for the remainder of his term.  

But Zupnick, who stressed he remains hopeful reform could happen this year, said in that scenario Democrats should go ahead and nix the rule if they are able to.  

“I think the filibuster should be eliminated,” he said. “The filibuster is just not a rule that works in today’s Senate.”