Category Archives: US Senate

Democrats can’t kill the filibuster. But they can gut it.

Three reforms Manchin and Sinema might consider

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at a Feb. 24 Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing. (Leigh Vogel/AP)
The Washington Post, by Norman Ornstein, March 2, 2021

Democrats won both Georgia Senate seats in January’s runoffs, giving them control of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. But their ability to advance legislation — from raising the federal minimum wage to democracy reforms in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — can be thwarted by the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority filibuster rule.

Progressives’ anger at Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his caucus, who use the filibuster to block every initiative they can, is nearly matched by their frustration with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), whose opposition to getting rid of the filibuster means Democrats are stuck with it, since they’d need all 50 votes in their caucus, plus Vice President Harris as a tiebreaker, to do it. Last month, the progressive No Excuses PAC, whose leaders helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) in 2018, said Manchin and Sinema “stand in the way of progress” by abetting Republican efforts “to shrink their own party’s pandemic relief, climate, and economic investment plans.” The political action committee has talked up primary challenges to both of them to show “‘how angry Democratic primary voters are going to be’ if they continue to support the filibuster.”

Manchin hasn’t budged, though. Monday, when asked if he’d reconsider his stance on eliminating the filibuster, he shot back: “Jesus Christ, what don’t you understand about ‘never’?”

Democrats are right to see the urgency: Republican state lawmakers around the country are moving to enact voter suppression measures that will, if passed, put the slender Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives in jeopardy in 2022 and beyond. Without democracy reform, and with the Supreme Court’s recent assaults on the Voting Rights Act, sticking with the filibuster could make it nearly impossible for the Biden administration to pursue its agenda.

But Democrats should proceed with caution: In 2001, I warned that if Republicans harangued Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) over his apostasy on their party’s policy priorities, they would regret it. He would switch parties and, in a 50-50 Senate, shift the Senate majority. The next month, it happened. The same concern now applies to Democrats with Manchin. Push too far, and the result could be Majority Leader McConnell, foreclosing Democrats’ avenue to pursue infrastructure, tax reform and health reform legislation.

So, what can Democrats do?

For a West Virginia Democrat, heavy criticism from key members of his own party, up to and including President Biden, might wind up working to Manchin’s advantage. That was true of an earlier apostate, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), who’s been reelected several times after switching from Democrat to Republican in 1994, after butting heads with President Bill Clinton.

Instead of naming and shaming them, Democrats might consider looking at what Manchin and Sinema like about the filibuster. Sinema recently said, “Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it’s meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans.” Last year, Manchin said, “The minority should have input — that’s the whole purpose for the Senate. If you basically do away with the filibuster altogether for legislation, you won’t have the Senate. You’re a glorified House. And I will not do that.”

If you take their views at face value, the goal is to preserve some rights for the Senate minority, with the aim of fostering compromise. The key, then, is to find ways not to eliminate the filibuster on legislation but to reform it to fit that vision. Here are some options:

Make the minority do the work. Currently, it takes 60 senators to reach cloture — to end debate and move to a vote on final passage of a bill. The burden is on the majority, a consequence of filibuster reform in 1975, which moved the standard from two-thirds of senators present and voting to three-fifths of the entire Senate. Before that change, if the Senate went around-the-clock, filibustering senators would have to be present in force. If, for example, only 75 senators showed up for a cloture vote, 50 of them could invoke cloture and move to a final vote. After the reform, only a few senators in the minority needed to be present to a request for unanimous consent and to keep the majority from closing debate by forcing a quorum call. The around-the-clock approach riveted the public, putting a genuine spotlight on the issues. Without it, the minority’s delaying tactics go largely unnoticed, with little or no penalty for obstruction, and no requirement actually to debate the issue.

One way to restore the filibuster’s original intent would be requiring at least two-fifths of the full Senate, or 40 senators, to keep debating instead requiring 60 to end debate. The burden would fall to the minority, who’d have to be prepared for several votes, potentially over several days and nights, including weekends and all-night sessions, and if only once they couldn’t muster 40 — the equivalent of cloture — debate would end, making way for a vote on final passage of the bill in question.

Go back to the “present and voting” standard. A shift to three-fifths of the Senate “present and voting” would similarly require the minority to keep most of its members around the Senate when in session. If, for example, the issue in question were voting rights, a Senate deliberating on the floor, 24 hours a day for several days, would put a sharp spotlight on the issue, forcing Republicans to publicly justify opposition to legislation aimed at protecting the voting rights of minorities. Weekend Senate sessions would cause Republicans up for reelection in 2022 to remain in Washington instead of freeing them to go home to campaign. In a three-fifths present and voting scenario, if only 80 senators showed up, only 48 votes would be needed to get to cloture. Add to that a requirement that at all times, a member of the minority party would have to be on the floor, actually debating, and the burden would be even greater, while delivering what Manchin and Sinema say they want — more debate.

Narrow the supermajority requirement. Another option would be to follow in the direction of the 1975 reform, which reduced two-thirds (67 out of a full 100) to three-fifths (60 out of 100), and further reduce the threshold to 55 senators — still a supermajority requirement, but a slimmer one. Democrats might have some ability to get five Republicans to support their desired outcomes on issues such as voting rights, universal background checks for gun purchases or a path to citizenship for Dreamers. A reduction to 55, if coupled with a present-and-voting standard would establish even more balance between majority and minority.

In a 50-50 Senate, and with the GOP strategy clearly being united opposition to almost all Democratic priorities, Biden and Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) need the support of Manchin and Sinema on a daily basis. They won’t be persuaded by pressure campaigns from progressive groups or from members of Congress. But they might consider reforms that weaken the power of filibusters and give Democrats more leverage to enact their policies, without pursuing the dead end of abolishing the rule altogether.

Headshot of Norman OrnsteinNorman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is a co-author of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate and the Not-Yet Deported.”

The death of RBG; news orgs remember legal legend; election jolted; McConnell warns of ‘pressure from the press’; views from right and left

Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter

Oliver Darcy here. It feels wrong to tease any of the stories in this newsletter here when there is such significant and tragic news…

The death of RBG

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Only a tiny fraction of stories leave a control room in shock and a news anchor visibly startled. Only a small number of stories cause a host to interrupt their own script, mid-paragraph, for breaking news, cautiously digesting the information being relayed by his or her producers before conveying it to the audience. Only few stories cause newspapers to rip up and redo their front pages on a Friday night.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of those stories.

‘We have breaking news right now’

On MSNBCJoy Reid was talking about Trump University when she abruptly stopped in the middle of the segment. “I’m going to hold on because we have some breaking news that we have to report,” Reid said, before taking a breath and informing her audience that Ginsburg had passed away at the age of 87.

CNN, meanwhile, was on a commercial break when Erin Burnett suddenly cut in. “We have breaking news right now,” Burnett told viewers with an urgency reserved for only the biggest news stories. It took Fox News several more minutes to bring their viewers the breaking story. The network was airing the Trump rally in Minnesota. Eventually Martha MacCallum broke in with a Fox News Alert, cutting away from Trump as he attacked the “fake polls.”

How news orgs remembered her

>> New Yorker: “Ginsburg bore witness to, argued for, and helped to constitutionalize the most hard-fought and least-appreciated revolution in modern American history: the emancipation of women. Aside from Thurgood Marshall, no single American has so wholly advanced the cause of equality under the law…”

>> WaPo: “Born in Depression-era Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg excelled academically and went to the top of her law school class at a time when women were still called upon to justify taking a man’s place. She earned a reputation as the legal embodiment of the women’s liberation movement and as a widely admired role model for generations of female lawyers…”

>> NYT: “Barely five feet tall and weighing 100 pounds, Justice Ginsburg drew comments for years on her fragile appearance. But she was tough…”

>> CNN: “Ginsburg developed a rock star status and was dubbed the ‘Notorious R.B.G.’ In speaking events across the country before liberal audiences, she was greeted with standing ovations as she spoke about her view of the law, her famed exercise routine and her often fiery dissents…”

Front and center

Ginsburg’s death will place the Supreme Court front and center of not only the presidential race, but in Senate races all across the country. This is one of the issues that will define the weeks leading up to the election. The precedents set by landmark cases like Roe v. Wade are quite literally at stake, as well as a host of other issues the court will decide in the years to come. And as Jim Sciutto pointed out, “A 5-3 conservative court may have some very big decisions to make about the upcoming election.”

Mitch McConnell vowed on Friday night to ensure Trump’s nominee — should he nominate someone, and all indications are that he will — gets a vote, and as Dana Bash pointed out on CNN, filling the bench has been the majority leader’s “singular focus.” Which is to say it’s very difficult to imagine a scenario where Republicans don’t move forward at some point between now and January 20th. Brit Hume made a smart point on Fox, noting that Trump’s promise to appoint conservative judges was an argument that actually helped persuade some Republicans who were otherwise uncomfortable with voting for him in 2016. Biden’s campaign has made significant effort to win over Republican voters in this race. Will the future of the court hinder Biden’s efforts? Or will it rally the left even more?

McConnell warns of ‘tremendous pressure from the press’

In a note McConnell sent to GOP senators, the majority leader wrote, “Over the coming days, we are all going to come under tremendous pressure from the press to announce how we will handle the coming nomination.” McConnell’s advice? “For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or for those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you to all keep your powder dry. This is not the time to prematurely lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”

>> McConnell is advising his colleagues that they should withhold from their constituents how they are leaning on an issue of incredible importance with an election fast approaching…

‘My most fervent wish’

Will Ginsburg’s dying wish be honored? We’ll see. Before she died, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara SperaNPR’s Nina Totenberg reported. The statement read, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Fox guests call for Trump to make nomination

Some guests on Fox wasted no time calling for Trump to nominate a justice to fill the vacancy. Ned Ryun said the President should “seize the moment” and make a nomination. Ted Cruz later told Sean Hannity that he believes Trump should “next week nominate a successor to the court.” Cruz added, “I think it is critical the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day.”

Expect this pressure to ramp up and be at full speed by the end of the weekend. Right-wing media will undoubtedly call for Trump to make a nomination. The mindset for conservatives has, for some time, been defined by what the late Andrew Breitbart used to say: “#WAR.” In other words, arguments about rules and precedent are not likely to be effective. There are no rules in war — and that is the state that right-wing media has conditioned its audience to be in.

Related: Matt Gertz at the progressive media watchdog Media Matters put together a compilation of “when Fox hosts said that you shouldn’t push a Supreme Court nomination during an election year…”

The view on MSNBC

Brian Stelter writes: “Chris Hayes‘ guest Rebecca Traister took a big gulp of wine as Hayes reported McConnell’s statement. Hayes ended his hour by saying, ‘The future is unwritten, and anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen is wrong. We are utterly uncharted territory.’ Rachel Maddow agreed and said humility is essential in a moment like this. Maddow then interviewed Hillary Clinton, who said ‘She stood on the side of moving us toward a more perfect union…'”

NYT’s historic A1

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— CNN and Fox News are staying live until 1am ET and starting Saturday morning coverage early at 5am…

— “Trump is expected to put forth a nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court in the coming days,” sources told ABC’s John Santucci and Katherine Faulders… (ABC News)


— Trump is “likely to meet again with those on his short list in the coming days,” a source told NYT’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman… (NYT)


— “An already chaotic and corrosive presidential campaign was jolted anew,” Philip RuckerMatt ViserSean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey wrote… (WaPo)


— CNN’s Ariane de Vogue reported that Ginsburg, “even after her fifth diagnosis with cancer was working on a book with one of her former clerks, Amanda Tyler. It was based on her life on gender equality…” (CNN)

— Within thirty minutes of the bulletin, each of the top ten Twitter trending topics in the US were related to RBG… (Twitter)


— Watch the moment that Bill Maher broke the news to his panel. You can hear gasps from people in the audience… (“Real Time”)

Kentucky Senator “Moscow Mitch” backs Russia, stops bipartisan votes, enters into financial arrangement with Russian oligarch

By Roger Straw, August 15, 2019

Taking down Mitch McConnell probably as important as taking down Trump

If you missed it, you really should set aside the next 25 minutes to watch Rachel Maddow (below) as she lays out in exquisite detail how Mitch McConnell has allowed Russia to gain an economic foothold in the US so that they can influence US politics from within.

If you don’t have 25 minutes, read “Jaws Drop – Rachel Maddow Lays Out Mitch McConnell’s Economic Treason” on PoliticusUSA.

Here’s Rachel’s exposé:

And … if you only have 7 minutes, check out this excerpt of Rachel’s show, posted in a tweet by Sarah Reese Jones: