COMPASS: Senate Democrats come for the legislative filibuster

January 10th, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. The House and Senate are both back in session.

The Senate is expected to pivot this week to their election takeover legislation – less as a means to pass it, and more as a means to expose their conference to pressure to “reform” the filibuster around carve outs for what they call voting rights legislation.

As of today, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) appear to remain firmly opposed to such a maneuver. But the votes this week are designed, in part, to publicly pressure them. In the past there have been more Democrats than just Manchin and Sinema opposed to upending the legislative filibuster, but more and more of them now appear open to the idea.

Also keep an eye on President Joe Biden, who is expected to make a speech on voting rights tomorrow during his trip to Georgia. Biden prides himself on being a “Senate guy” after serving in the upper chamber for 36 years. During that time he has generally supported the filibuster, in 2005 calling it a tool that “engender[s] compromise and moderation,” rather than simply “stopping a nominee or a bill.”

At the very least, as someone who served in the Senate for decades, Biden should have an intuitive grasp of how the filibuster works to ensure all voices are heard, and that every senator and the constituents they represent have a seat at the table – in a way that does not happen in purely majoritarian institutions like the House.

But Biden may very well change his tune on Tuesday, and endorse a carve out (similar to the premise Senate Republicans endorsed last month on the debt ceiling). If such a measure were to pass, it won’t speed anything up; rather, it will likely slow the Senate down even further as Senate Republicans withdraw their consent for daily operations of the Senate, demanding a vote on daily business as simple as approving the journal, or allowing committees to meet after the Senate has been in session for two hours (or past  2pm), all things generally approved unanimously.

Moreover, it will begin the slow erosion of the legislative filibuster itself. The judicial filibuster, recall, wasn’t nuked in a day. Rather, its slow and ignominious death began in 2013, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid instituted a carve out for certain categories of executive branch nominees and judges. Two fell-swoops later, led by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the judicial filibuster was toast by 2017.

Speaking of the importance of the filibuster in forcing minority causes to matter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will get a vote this week on a bill requiring the Biden administration to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which carries natural gas from Russia to Germany. The Biden administration waived these sanctions, which had been imposed under the Trump administration, in a move which many believe to be a gift to Vladimir Putin.

But Cruz would not have received this vote without his constant objection to dozens of Biden’s diplomatic and ambassadorial nominees – a sustained filibuster, if you will. Because of Cruz’s actions, Democratic leaders were forced to come to the table to negotiate and give him the vote he wanted in exchange for his release of Biden’s nominees. In a strictly majoritarian body, that never would have happened. Cruz and his concerns would have been ignored.

And because of Cruz’s actions, and the Senate’s filibuster which allowed them to matter, Democrats – who are expected to vote against the measure despite their past support for these same sanctions – will now be on record looking like hypocrites. Somehow, the party that screamed about Russian collusion for four straight years can’t seem to find it in them to oppose Joe Biden’s efforts to give the Russian president a straightforward tangible benefit.

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One More Thing…

In case you missed it, CPI’s Phil Reboli ran down five reasons Americans became more pro-gun in 2021.