As already reported in a prior post, the U.S. Senate on January 24th adopted modest reforms to its filibuster rule, and the initial reactions were mixed. Here are some additional reactions.
The Majority and Minority Leaders
The brokers of the actual reforms–Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader–issued statements afterwards.
Senator Reid said the reforms are “steps towards ending gridlock in the Senate, and making this body a more efficient place while still respecting the rights of the minority. Americans of all political stripes can agree that Washington is not working the way it should. We were elected to get things done for the middle class – not waste time with endless stalling tactics that cause even bills with broad bipartisan support to languish for weeks. These reforms will allow us to deal with legislation in a more timely fashion, and weaken the ability of those who seek to obstruct for obstruction’s sake”
Reid added, “If these reforms do not do enough to end the gridlock here in Washington, we will consider doing more in the future.”
McConnell, on the other hand, emphasized that the bipartisan compromise package ” avoided the nuclear option, and . . . [retained the rule] that any changes to the Standing Rules of the Senate still require 67 [two-thirds] votes.” He also expressed home “the Senate can return to the way it used to operate and that all of us will be able to participate more fully in the legislative process.”
Leaders for Stronger Reforms
Senator Jeff Merkley, one of the leaders for stronger reforms, recognized that the Senate as a whole had declared “the paralysis of the Senate is unacceptable.” The adopted reforms, he said, “are modest, and don’t address the core problem of the secret, silent filibuster, but they do include some important elements, providing flexibility on the motion to proceed and speeding up the confirmation process on nominations.”
“If these modest steps do not end the paralysis the Senate currently suffers,” Merkley added,” many Senators are determined to revisit this debate and explore stronger remedies,” and he would keep working to that end. “We have a responsibility to address the big issues facing our country. I’ll keep working with my colleagues to achieve that goal.”
In an interview, Merkley reiterated his commitment to pressing for additional reform if nothing much changes in this session of the Congress.
The other leader for stronger reforms was Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. He said that although the adopted reforms were “not as strong what many of us have been advocating,” they did alter “the way we deal with nominations, conference committees and motions to proceed — all things I’ve been working toward.” Udall, therefore, was “supporting . . . [the] efforts to get a bipartisan agreement today,” but would “continue to fight for the stronger filibuster reforms my colleagues and I believe will make the Senate a more accountable institution.”
Udall also emphasized that the external infrastructure for Senate reform would continue and remain vigilant and ready to push for more action later if necessary.
I hope that these limited changes will make the Senate more functional.
But I am skeptical.
For example, in this new session of Congress Republicans are delaying a Judiciary Committee hearing on the President’s nomination of a very able lawyer to be a circuit court judge. The purported justification is their demand for information about the Government’s settlement of a case in which he had a minor role.
Another example is the limited changes’ failure to alter the filibuster rule for high-level presidential appointments. This week an appellate court held that President Obama violated the Constitution by making several recess appointments to the National Labor Board, which otherwise were subject to Senate confirmation, when the Senate was not really open for business, but rather in Potemkin Village illusions of sessions. According to the New York Times, this Republican senatorial practice and the court’s decision demonstrate how the Democrats’ “timidity” on reforming the filibuster rule “is being used against them.”