The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate said on Friday that he was leaning toward abolishing the legislative filibuster, which would allow new laws to be passed more easily by the party in the majority.
“I can tell you that’s where I’m leaning,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s minority whip, told Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast. “I will tell you, I have been frustrated for a hell of a long time because of this filibuster.”
Republicans and some moderate Democrats oppose abolishing the filibuster, but momentum for doing so has been building in recent years as gridlock has taken hold in the GOP-controlled Senate. Polls of the 2020 election show Democrats could possibly retake control of the chamber.
“All the cards are on the table. [Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer made that clear yesterday, and a lot of us have been thinking about this. It boils down to this: The Senate has become dysfunctional under [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell because of his passionate commitment to filling every single judicial vacancy with these ideologues that they dream up with the Federalist Society.
“We’ve done nothing,” continued Durbin. “Last year, in 2019, the United States Senate in the entire calendar year, we considered on the floor of the United States Senate 22 amendments. Twenty-two in an entire year, and six of them were laughers introduced by Rand Paul with a gun to our head — ‘You can’t go home unless you give me a vote.’ That is a disintegration of the Senate before our eyes. There are many of us who run and ran for public office to do something. If the Senate rules stop us from doing something, we’ve got to take a look at the rules, and I don’t rule out the filibuster being on the table in terms of reform.”
The legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes instead of a simple majority to approve bills, is not mandated by the Constitution. It is the result of an early 19th century rule change. In the 1950s and ’60s, segregationist senators used it to block civil rights legislation, and it’s recently been used to stymie a variety of bills. In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, eliminated the filibuster that required 60 votes to confirm most judicial nominees and executive appointments. In 2017, McConnell and Republicans removed the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch.
When asked if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has been reluctant to come out in support of abolishing the filibuster, would approve of the change, Durbin said, “He will to this extent: You need to have a majority to change the Senate rules under this expedited procedure, and you need the vice president, who will be Kamala Harris, we hope, at that point. So certainly she’s going to consult with her president before that decision is made.”
“But I think Joe has expressed an openness. Listen, I introduced the Dream Act 19 years ago — 19 years ago! It’s still not the law of the land. I passed it in the Senate. That’s a civil rights and human rights issue as far as I’m concerned. I’m frustrated as hell, and there are 800,000, maybe 2 million lives in the balance here,” Durbin added. “There comes a point when you’ve got to say, ‘All right, it’s the 21st century. Let’s get on board here, let’s do something.’”
When asked if he was in favor of eliminating the filibuster, Durbin conceded that’s where he was leaning.
“The alternative is if someone comes up with an approach that’s more reasonable than the current system, I’m open to it, but I’ll tell you, I’ve been frustrated for a hell of a long time because of this filibuster,” he said.
Speaking at Rep. John Lewis’s funeral last month, former President Barack Obama said he was in favor of abolishing the filibuster if Republicans remained intransigent.
“Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching,” Obama said. “And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close ally of Biden, also recently expressed openness to removing the filibuster.
“I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn,” Coons told Politico in June. “I am gonna try really hard to find a path forward that doesn’t require removing what’s left of the structural guardrails, but if there’s a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action.”
Not all Democrats are onboard. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told Yahoo News earlier this month that he would do everything he can to prevent its removal.
“My view on the filibuster has been my view from day one,” Manchin said. “We should be able to talk to each other, we should be able to sit down and work through our differences and we should find a compromise. ... We’re not going to run this country from the extremes, and if you do away with the filibuster as we know it and basically the 60-vote rule, then you’re going to have the Senate no different from the House — it can go to the fringes to the right or the left.”
If Biden were to win the presidency, Democrats would also need to pick up three seats in the Senate to regain control of the legislative chamber for the first time in six years. While Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama is projected to lose his seat, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report gives Democratic Senate candidates a better chance of winning in states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina.
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