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.
In Florida, Rep. Val Demings (D) talked up the need to reform the filibuster when she launched her bid to unseat Sen. Marco Rubio (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 Ryan (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 Portman (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 Biden facing off with more progressive rivals.
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 Reid (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 Kelly (D-Ariz.), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (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 McConnell (R-Ky.), used fellow Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’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 Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposes ending the filibuster.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (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.
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.”