United States Government’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

After looking at international and Cuban reactions to the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, we now examine the reactions by the U.S. Government’s Executive Branch and Congress. A subsequent post will look at the reactions of the American people.

I. Executive Branch.

Led by President Barack Obama, the Executive Branch engaged in 18 months of secret negotiations with Cuba that resulted in the December 17th announcement of an accord between the two countries involving immediate release of certain prisoners, promised liberalization of U.S. regulations regarding U.S. exports to the island and U.S. citizens travel to Cuba, promised U.S. review of its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and further negotiations for reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations and for resolution of a long list of issues or disputes.

The U.S. Department of State immediately commenced review of the “terrorism’ designation and the Treasury and Commerce Departments in January announced the new and more liberal regulations regarding exports and travel.

The U.S., represented by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, participated in the first round of further negotiations with Cuba in Havana in January, and the second round will be this month in Washington, D.C.

In addition, as we will see in the discussion of reactions in the U.S. House of Representatives, bills have been introduced to end the U.S. embargo of the island.

In short, the U.S. is doing everything it can to further the progress toward normalization of relations and reconciliation of the two countries.

II. U.S. Congress

The following analysis of the positions of senators and representatives on reconciliation obviously is incomplete since I was not able to conduct exhaustive research on all 100 senators and all 435 representatives. I also used my judgment to assign pending bills as favoring or opposing reconciliation and assumed, absent specific information to the contrary, that being a sponsor or cosponsor of a bill in one category would preclude that individual’s voting for some or all of the bills in the other category. Moreover, the named individual legislators may change their minds if and when any of these measures reach the chambers’ floors for votes. I earnestly entreat readers to provide comments with other information to correct or supplement this analysis.

A. U.S. Senate

Of the 100 Senators, 25 so far appear to support reconciliation while 27 do not. The other 48 Senators apparently have not yet taken positions on this major issue.

1. Favoring reconciliation

As of February 10, I was surprised to discover that the Senate does not have a bill to abolish the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar clearly has stated her intent to offer and support such a bill, but has not done so to date because she believes that the Senate first should vote on confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba, who has not yet been nominated by the President. Moreover, Cuba’s President Castro has made noises that abolishing the embargo should come before restoration of normal diplomatic relations. As a result, Klobuchar’s legislative strategy may have to be revised.

In any event, as of February 10, the Senate had only two measures on its agenda that are at least tangentially favorable to the recent U.S.-Cuba accord.

The first is S.299 (Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015) offered by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) with 13 cosponsors [1]  It was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.

The other is a proposed resolution (S.RES.26: Commending Pope Francis for his leadership in helping to secure the release of Alan Gross and for working with the Governments of the United States and Cuba to achieve a more positive relationship). It was offered by Senator Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) with 10 cosponsors, four of whom were not cosponsors of S.299 [2]  The proposed resolution was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.

In addition to these 18 senators, the following seven (for a total of 25) can also be regarded as supporters of reconciliation based upon statements on their official websites or other comments or actions mentioned in the press: Tammy Baldwin (Dem., WI), Chris Coons (Dem., DE), Al Franken (Dem., MN), Chris Murphy (Dem., CT), Rand Paul (Rep., KY), Pat Roberts (Rep., KS) and Harry Reid (Dem., NV).

Thus, at least 25 Senators are on record apparently supporting reconciliation with Cuba

2. Opposing reconciliation

As of February 10, the Senate had on its agenda one substantive bill relating to Cuba that can be seen as indirectly opposed to reconciliation.

S.165 (Detaining Terrorists To Protect America Act of 2015) would extend and enhance prohibitions and limitations with respect to the transfer or release of individuals detained at the U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.This bill was referred to the Armed Services Committee. It was offered by Senator Kelly Ayotte (Rep., NH) with 26 Republican cosponsors [3] One of the cosponsors, however, is Senator Jerry Moran, who was a cosponsor of S.299 and who spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba. Thus, I believe that only 25 of these cosponsors can be counted in the anti-reconciliation camp.

At least one other Senator belongs in this camp. Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), who is a Cuban-American, is vehemently opposed to reconciliation as are the other two Cuban-American Senators–Ted Cruz (Rep., TX) and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), both of  whom are cosponsors of S.165.

Thus, at least 27 Senators are on record apparently opposing reconciliation.

B. U.S. House of Representatives

There are at least 43 representatives favoring reconciliation while 52 do not. That leaves the other 340 representatives not accounted for.

1. Favoring reconciliation

As of February 10, the House had eight pending bills favorable to reconciliation with Cuba.

The following three seek to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

  • The leading one seems to be H.R.403 (Free Trade with Cuba Act) that was introduced by Representative Charles Rangel (Dem., NY) with 27 Democratic cosponsors [4] It has been referred for consideration to the House Foreign Affairs and six other committees.[5] The bill would end the embargo, and its  section 2 would have Congress find that “Cuba is no longer a threat to the [U.S.] or Western Hemisphere;” the U.S. ” is using economic, cultural, academic, and scientific engagement to support its policy of promoting democratic and human rights reforms [in other Communist regimes];” and the U.S. “can best support democratic change in Cuba by promoting trade and commerce, travel, communications, and cultural, academic, and scientific exchanges.”
  • The other two similar bills to end the embargo are H.R.274 (United States-Cuba Normalization Act, 2015) by Rep. Bobby Rush (Dem., IL) without any cosponsors, and H.R.735 (To lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and for other purposes) by Rep. Jose Serrano (Dem., NY) with Rep. Rangel as a cosponsor, both of whom are on the record as supporters of of H.R.403. These bills too were referred to the same seven committees for consideration.

 Rep. Rangel on February 2nd also introduced H.R.635 (Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2015) to facilitate the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, to remove impediments to the export to Cuba of medical devices and medicines, to allow travel to Cuba by U.S. legal residents, to establish an agricultural export promotion program with respect to Cuba. With 25 of the same Democratic cosponsors, the bill was referred to the Foreign Affairs and four other committees.

There are two bills to expand U.S. residents ability to travel to Cuba. Rep. Rangel on February 2nd introduced H.R.634 (Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015) with 25 of the same Democratic cosponsors of H.R.403 plus John Garamendi (Dem., CA) and Mark Pocan (Dem., WI). It has provisions for freedom to travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and legal residents.It was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee. A similar bill to expand U.S. citizens travel to Cuba (H.R.664: Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015) was offered on February 2nd by Rep. Mark Sanford (Rep., SC) with 12 cosponsors.[6] It also was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

A more limited travel bill was introduced by Representative Jose Serrano (Dem., NY). It is H.R.738: To waive certain prohibitions with respect to nationals of Cuba coming to the United States to play organized professional baseball. Its sole cosponsor is Representative Rangel and was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

On January 27th Minnesota’s Representative Betty McCollum introduced H.R.570 (Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act) to stop Radio Marti and Television Marti broadcasts to Cuba. McCollum was a cosponsor of H.R.403 while HR. 570 has no cosponsors. It was referred to the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

I am proud to say that all five Democratic Representatives from Minnesota by offering or cosponsoring bills appear to be in favor of this reconciliation. In addition, two of Minnesota’s three Republican Representatives have made statements indicating at least receptivity to favoring the reconciliation, and this analysis counts them as undecided. [7]

Our newest Representative Tom Emmer said, “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working. And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.” In addition, as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Emmer focused on three issues in questioning Administration witnesses: reparations for Cubans who have been persecuted by the Castro regime, payments for U.S. interests that lost property to the regime and safe harbor of U.S. fugitives within Cuba. Emmer also said or suggested if certain conditions are met he could support ending the embargo.

Another Minnesota Republican Representative, Rep. Erik Paulsen, said, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” (Id.) It may also be significant that his district includes the headquarters of Cargill Incorporated, the leader of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba

Thus, there are at least 40 Representatives who appear to be in favor of this reconciliation with differing levels of commitment.

2. Opposing reconciliation

There are two pending bills, both relating to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that can be seen as opposing reconciliation, as of February 10.

The first is H.R.654 (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Protection Act). It was introduced by David Jolly (Rep., FL)  with 36 Republican cosponsors, none of whom is from Minnesota. [8] It was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The other bill (H.R.401: Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015) which would prohibit the release or transfer of certain Guantanamo Bay detainees and the construction or modification of any other facility to house such detainees. It was offered by Representative Jackie Walkorski (Rep., IN) with 29 Republican cosponsors, of whom 17 were not cosponsors of H.R.654. [9] It was referred to the Armed Services Committee.

Accordingly there are at least 54 Representatives on the record against reconciliation. Three of them are Cuban-Americans (Carlos Curbello, Mario Diaz–Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) with the latter two being the most vocal in their persistent criticism of reconciliation. Another Cuban-American Representative (Albio Sires (Dem., NJ)) has not been an author or cosponsor of any of these bills, but his website includes a rejection of the President’s decisions to seek reconciliation with Cuba. [10]

III. Conclusion

As a supporter of reconciliation, I am anxious that this year both houses of Congress abolish the embargo and support other measures to promote that reconciliation. Therefore, I urge all supporters to say thank you to those legislators who already are on our side, to identify the “undecided” legislators and seek to persuade them to become supporters and to inform our fellow citizens of the important issues in this controversy and to seek to persuade them to be supporters.

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[1] The 13 cosponsors of S.299 are the following: John Boozman (Rep., AR), Barbara Boxer (Dem, CA), Thomas Carper (Dem., DE), Susan Collins (Rep., ME), Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) ), Michael Enzi (Rep., WY), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Jack Reed (Dem., RI), Debbie Stabenow (Dem., MI), Tom Udall (Dem., NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Dem., RI). Senator Moran also spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

[2] The four cosponsors of S.RES.26 who were not cosponsors of S.299 are the following: Sherrod Brown (Dem., OH), Benjamin Cardin (Dem., MD), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA) and Barbara Mikulski (Dem., MD). 

[3] The 26 Republican cosponsors of S.165 are the following: John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC). John Cornyn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Ted Cruz (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Deb Fischer (NE), Lindsey Graham (SC), Orrin Hatch (UT), James Inhofe (OK), Johnny Isakson (GA), Ron Johnson (WI), Mark Kirk (IL), James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee ((UT), John McCain (AZ), Jerry Moran (KS), Pat Roberts (KS), Mike Rounds (SD), Jeff Sessions (AL), Dan Sullivan (AK), Thom Tillis (NC), Pat Toomey (PA) and Roger Wicker (MS).

[4] The 27 Democratic Representative cosponsors of H.R.403 are Karen Bass (CA), William Clay (Mo), Steve Cohen (TN), John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Keith Ellison (MN), Sam Farr (CA), Chaka Fattah (PA), Raul Griaiva (AZ), Jared Huffman (CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Eddie Johnson (TX), Henry Johnson (GA), Barbara Lee (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), Gregory Meeks (NY), Gwen Moore (WI), Rick Nolan (MN), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Collin Peterson (MN), Jared Polis (CO), Janice Schakowsky (IL), Bennie Thompson (MS), Tim Walz (MN) and Maxine Waters (CA).

[5] A prior post listed the members of the seven House committees that have jurisdiction over different portions of the three bills to end the embargo.

[6] The 12 cosponsors of H.R.664 are Kathy Astor (Rep., FL), Jason Chaffetz (Rep., UT), Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Rosa DeLauro (Rep., CT), Sam Farr (Dem., CA), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA), Thomas Massie (Rep., KY), James McGovern (Dem., MA), Charles Rangel (Dem., NY), Chris Van Hollen, (Rep., MD), Nydia Velazquez (Dem., NY) and Peter Welch (Dem, VT).) Of this group, eight were not sponsors or cosponsors of H.R.403 (Chaffetz, Cramer, DeLauro, Massie, McGovern, Van Hollen, Velazquez and Welch). Cramer also announced his support for ending the embargo at the launch of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

[7] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ‘Clearly that’s not working, MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015). The third Minnesota Republican Representative, John Kline, appeared to be less receptive to ending the embargo. He said he’s “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.”

[8] The 36 Republican cosponsors of H.R.654 are Gus Bilirakis (FL), Michael Burgess (TX), Bradley Byrne (AL), Jason Chaffetz (UT), Mike Coffman (CO), Carlos Curbello (FL), Rodney Davis (IL), Ron DeSantis (FL), Mario Diaz-Balert (FL), Bill Flores (TX), Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Trey Gowdy (TN), Andy Harris (MD), Richard Hudson (NC), Duncan Hunter (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Bill Johnson (OH), Jeff Miller (FL), Alexander Mooney (WV), Richard Nugent (FL), Gary Palmer (AL), Robert Pittenger (NC), Bill Posey (FL), Reid Ribble (WI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Keith Rothfus (PA), Matt Salmon (AZ), Austin Scott (GA), Marlin Stutzman (IN), Jackie Walorski (IN), Randy Weber (TX), Roger Williams (TX), Joe Wilson (SC), Ted Yoho (FL) and Ryan Zinke (MT). Diaz-Balert and Ros-Lehtinen are Cuban-Americans who have been and are most vocal in their criticism of reconciliation. Rodney Davis, however, spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and should not be viewed as completely hostile to reconciliation.

[9] The 29 Republican cosponsors of H.R.401 are Andy Barr (KY), Susan Brooks (IN), Bradley Byrne (AL), Mike Coffman (CO), Paul Cook (CA), Ander Crenshaw (FL), Trent Franks (AZ), Andy Harris (MD), Jaime Herrera Beutier (WA), Duncan Hunter (CA), Darrell Issa (CA). Sam Johnson (TX), Doug Lamborn (CO), Robert Latta (OH), Luke Messer (IN), Mick Mulvaney (IN), Richard Nugent (FL), Steven Pearce (NM), Robert Pittenger (NC), Ted Poe (TX), Mike Pompeo (KS), Todd Rokita (IN), Aaron Schock (IL), Austin Scott (GA), Christopher Smith (NJ), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Joe Wilson (SC), Robert Wittman (VA) and Ryan Zinke (MT). Of these cosponsors, 16 (Barr, Brooks, Herrera, Sam Johnson, Lamborn, Latta, Messer, Mulvaney, Pearce, Poe, Pompeo, Rokita, Schock, Smith, Wenstrup and Wittman) were not cosponsors of H.R.654.

[10] Hook, Exile Haunts Cuba-American Lawmakers, W.S.J. (Dec. 20-21, 2014).

A Citizen’s Response to Washington Skirmishing Over Changing the U.S. Senate’s Filibuster Rule

The U.S. Senate, in my opinion, is dysfunctional. One of the major sources of this failing is its filibuster rule that at least since 2009 has made it necessary to have the votes of at least 60 of the 100 Senators in order to do almost anything. I have railed against this rule and the way it has been used in many prior posts.

In anticipation of the new Congress’ convening in early January 2013, a group of Democratic Senators is developing support for modest changes to the filibuster rule. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is supportive of this effort. The exact nature of the proposed changes apparently has not been set, but would at least include banning the filibuster on motions to take up proposed legislation for debate on the Senate floor and motions to take Senate-approved legislation to conference with the House of Representatives’ negotiators plus requiring those invoking the filibuster rule in other instances to stand up and speak on the Senate floor.[1]

Under the standing Senate rules, any amendment to the rules requires a two-thirds (67) votes. In the next session of Congress in January this would mean that all 53 Democratic Senators plus the 2 Independent  Senators plus 12 Republican Senators would have to vote in favor of any amendment.  All Washington observers agree that such a vote could not be attained for the proposed change to the filibuster rule.

Therefore, the supporters of changing the filibuster rule argue that at the start of a new session of Congress the Senate may change or adopt new rules by a simple majority vote (51).

This possibility has caused some of the Republican Senators to go apoplectic. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said adopting this proposed rule change by a simple majority vote would be like throwing “a bomb into the Senate, have it blow up, and have everybody mad as heck.” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the incoming Republican whip, said, this would “shut down the Senate” and was an abuse of power. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma added that it would “destroy” the Senate and cause a severe backlash. Similar comments have been made by Republican Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Such remarks, in my opinion, are absurd.

There are even some Democratic Senators who have expressed opposition or skepticism about changing the rules by a simple majority vote. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said he preferred “not to use a mechanism which I believe is dubious.” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said he did not like the simple majority-vote option.  Newly re-elected Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri stated that although she fully supported changing the rule, she was “not 100 percent in support” of the simple-majority-vote approach to doing do. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii merely said he was studying the proposal. In addition, Democratic Senator-Elect Joe Donnelly of Indiana said he was concerned about not protecting the things that make the Senate unique.

Much of this Democratic opposition or skepticism is the concern that someday they will be in the minority and wanting to block Republican proposals. However, this concern implicitly endorses eternal stalemate and the current Republican agenda of opposing most federal government action.

What then can U.S. citizens do to support changing the filibuster rule? I propose the following:

  1. Sign the electronic petition supporting the change.
  2. Write an email or letter to the Senators and Senators-Elect who are the initiators of the petition thanking them for doing so: Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tom Harkin, Amy Klobuchar, Jeanne Shaheen and Elizabeth Warren.
  3. Write to other Senators and Senators-Elect (Angus King, Maria Cantwell, Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich, Mazie Hirono, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy) who have publicly stated the need for changing the rule and urge them to join the petition campaign.
  4. Write to Majority Leader Harry Reid and urge him to press forward with changing the rule by a simple majority vote.
  5. Write to Democratic Senators (Carl Levin, Bill Nelson, Claire McCaskill and Daniel Inouye) and Senator-Elect Joe Donnelly who have expressed opposition or skepticism about the simple-majority-vote approach and urge them to change their minds and support this approach for the filibuster rule.
  6. Write to the Senators from your State and urge them to support changing the filibuster rule by a simple majority vote.
  7. Write letters to the editors of newspapers and express your support for this effort.

Contact information, including email forms, for current Senators is available on the web. You will have to search for similar information for Senators-Elect.


[1] The recent developments discussed in this post are drawn from the following sources: Noah, Die, Filibuster, Die, New Republic (Nov. 16, 2012), http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/110215/die-filibuster-die;Weisman, The Senate’s Long Slide to Gridlock, N.Y. Times (Nov. 24, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/us/politics/new-senates-first-task-will-likely-be-trying-to-fix-itself.html?hp&_r=1&pagewanted=print&;Raju, GOP warns of shutdown over filibuster, Politico (Nov. 25, 2012), http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=ACE6831F-56E7-419A-8137-85D3D3E7BF5E; McAuliff, Mitch McConnell: Filibuster Fight Is An Unnecessary “Bomb” in the Senate, Huffington Post (Nov. 27, 2012), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/mitch-mcconnell-filibuster_n_2200494.html?utm_hp_ref=politics; Bernstein, No, Republican obstruction isn’t because Harry Reid is mean to them,  Wash. Post (Nov. 27, 2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/no-republican-obstruction-isnt-because-harry-reid-is-mean-to-them/2012/11/27/232d2276-38dc-11e2-9258-ac7c78d5c680_blog.html; Collins, Happy Talking, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/opinion/collins-Happy-Talking.html?pagewanted=print; Steinhauer, Resistance on Method for Curbing Filibuster, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/us/politics/method-for-curbing-filibuster-faces-resistance.html?pagewanted=print.

Sign Petition for Reform of U.S. Senate Filibuster Rule!

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon is leading a campaign for a petition of public support for the Senate´s passing “meaningful filibuster reform as its first order of business when the new Congress begins” in early January 2013. He is joined in this campaign by  five other Senators—Tom Udall of New Mexico, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jeanne  Shaheen of New Hampshire–and by Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

I have signed this petition and urge all other U.S. citizens to do the same. All of us also should write to these Senators and Senator-Elect  and applaud them for proposing the change while urging other Senators to join them.

I do so even though I do not like the proposed reform they are advocating. It calls for a new “Talking Filibuster” rule. It would retain a rule allowing a filibuster that would prevent voting on the merits of proposed legislation or other action unless 60 Senators vote to close debate, but would require filibustering Senators “to stand on the floor and make their case to the American people with a real talking filibuster!” (Now Senators can filibuster without making any speeches, and this makes filibustering too easy to invoke and too easy to abuse.)

Senator Merkley recently elaborated on this proposal. He said under “the proposed rules, if a cloture vote[to end debate failed to win a simple majority, the bill would be killed and the Senate would move to new business. But if it won a majority — though less than a supermajority of 60 — the bill would remain on the floor for any senator who wished to opine on it. If at some point no senator rose to speak, after given several chances to do so, a new vote would be called — and only a simple majority would be needed to pass it.” Merkley also said the not yet completed proposed change might also include eliminating the filibuster on motions to proceed to debate and restrictions on filibustering efforts to send a bill to conference.

Making any change to the Senate rules at the start of a new session of the Congress permits, they will argue, adoption of new rules by a simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds requirement (67 votes) under the current rules for their amendment. (We can anticipate that some Senators will oppose the proposed change and will argue that a two-thirds vote is still required under a long-standing Senate practice that the Senate is a continuing body and that its rules continue from one Congress to the next.) I strongly favor the argument that only a simple majority vote is necessary for these changes when the new Congress meets for the first time.

Perhaps this group of reformers believes that their modest change is the only one that stands a chance of obtaining at least 51 votes for adoption. If so, then this political judgment must be respected by the citizenry even though, in my opinion, it is not sufficient to stop abuse of the filibuster. Indeed, as discussed in prior posts, I believe this rule should be eliminated in its entirety.

The seven organizers of the petition apparently have the important backing of the current Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who  said at a November 7th press conference that filibuster reform will happen in the new Congress. Reid is proposing some modifications to the filibuster rule — most notably to eliminate the possibility of filibustering efforts to begin debate on legislation. “I think that the rules have been abused and that we’re going to work to change them,” Reid said. “We’re not going to do away with the filibuster, but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place, we’re going to make it so that we can get things done.”

Changing the filibuster rule also has the support of seven other Senators-Elect: Angus King of Maine, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tom Kaine of Virginia and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Earlier posts have discussed my criticism of the filibuster as well as the pending federal court lawsuit by Common Cause challenging the constitutionality of the rule.

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Open Letter to Members of the U.S. Senate in the Upcoming 113th U.S. Congress

As a Christian and a citizen of the United States and Minnesota and a Democrat, I address these comments to all members of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming 113th U.S. Congress.

First, congratulations to everyone who was elected or re-elected on November 6, 2012! And congratulations and thank you to those who will continue to be members of the Senate. You all know that you have serious obligations to “We the People” of the U.S. as well as to the citizens of your own states.

Second, when you convene in early January 2013, I plead with you to adopt new rules by a simple majority vote and shake off the “dead hand of history” practice that the Senate is a continuing body with continuing rules and that those rules (XXII (2)) require a two-thirds vote to amend the rules, including the rule on cloture or filibuster. Those new rules should abolish the filibuster.[1]

In this regard, I am pleased that at least the following Senators-elect have made statements favoring some kind of changes to the filibuster rule:

    • Angus King (I) Maine – “The Senate’s recent overuse of the filibuster has stalled progress on practically every issue of importance in America. The 60-vote requirement that it creates is not in the Constitution.”
    • Maria Cantwell (D) Washington – “I’m not going back to the United States Senate to salute stalemate.”
    • Tammy Baldwin (D) Wisconsin – “There have been a number of proposals that say you start with a 60-vote threshold, and maybe after a month, it is lowered — until a point that after a matter has been pending in the Senate for a very long time — where everyone has had adequate opportunity for input — the threshold needed to move forward would be a simple majority.”
    • Martin Heinrich (D) New Mexico – co-sponsored house measure to force reform in the Senate in 2010.
    • Mazie Hirono (D) Hawaii – “Washington is indeed broken and part of the problem is the misuse and abuse of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Senator Tom Udall has proposed several ways in which the filibuster could be reformed that I believe warrant further discussion including: eliminating secret holds and requiring Senators that use the filibuster to stay on the Senate floor during a filibuster. These proposals could potentially bring transparency and efficiency to the Senate and help increase the public’s confidence in Congress”
    • Tom Kaine (D) Virginia – “A filibuster has had a venerable historical purpose, and the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, I would leave that where it is. But I would make anybody who filibusters anything to have to stand on the floor of the Senate, and stand up and say, ‘This is why I’m acting to block … whatever’s going on.’ Because at the end of the day, the American public ought to be entitled to know whether the filibusterer is like Jimmy Stewart in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ or just an SOB who wants to stand in the way of progress, you know?”
    • Chris Murphy (D) Connecticut – “The filibuster is in dire need of reform. Whether or not it needs to go away, we need to reform the way the filibuster is used, so it is not used in the order of everyday policy, but is only used in exceptional circumstances.”
    • Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts – “We need to reform the filibuster, beginning with a requirement that anyone who wants to stop the people’s business must go out onto the Senate floor and actually filibuster, live and in person, so that the American people see precisely who is creating gridlock.”

In addition, Senator Harry Reid, the current Majority Leader, said at a November 7th press conference that filibuster reform will happen in the new Congress. Reid is not proposing to eliminate the delaying tactic — which requires 60 votes and days to overcome. But he is proposing some modifications — most notably to eliminate the possibility of filibustering efforts to begin debate on legislation. “I think that the rules have been abused and that we’re going to work to change them,” Reid said. “We’re not going to do away with the filibuster, but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place, we’re going to make it so that we can get things done.”

Third, I urge the Democrats and the Republicans to elect new leaders. Senators Reid and McConnell should be congratulated for their service in this capacity, but new leaders perhaps would make it easier to effectuate better bipartisan cooperation. It might also be useful in this regard if two of the 20 female Senators in the next session became leaders of their parties.

Fourth, all Senators should remember that power and fame are fleeting. Don’t overplay your hand!

[1] I have written many posts about the filibuster and the need for its abolition or severe restriction.