7 Sitting Democratic Senators have already voted to gut the filibuster

by: Daniel De Groot

Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 22:00


To chime in on Chris' ambitious proposal to kill the filibuster, I'd like to add some context, and a possible starting list for the 7 Democratic Senators that Chris argues would be needed to effect its demise.

When Lieberman announced he would filibuster the public option, it soon emerged that Lieberman had once crusaded against the filibuster, even going so far as to make an effort to significantly limit it in 1995.

Lieberman (and Harkin) introduced a measure that would effectively end the ability of minority to indefinitely delay action, by providing for a series of decreasing thresholds needed to invoke cloture, until eventually a majority (of Senators "chosen and sworn", not present) could invoke cloture.  While it was not total destruction of the filibuster, it was the end of the ability of 41 Senators to kill major legislative priorities of the majority.  

The amendment was introduced at the start of the 104th Senate, just after Gingrich and Lott swept into power in the 1994 blowout.  His timing suggests he agreed with Chris' theory that a Republican Senate majority may be necessary to do this.  After all, the Republicans had just taken over the Senate for the first time since 1986, and might be tempted to collude with a few Democrats in giving themselves the power to rule by simple majority.  As it turned out, in 1995 they were not prepared to do so.  A few days later the amendment was "tabled" (killed) in a roll call vote of 76-19.  The 19 who voted "nay" on this motion are the most likely candidates for Senators who would be most open to eliminating the filibuster.  Of them, the following Senators are still in office:


Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Lautenburg (D-NJ)
Lieberman (I-CT)
Pryor (D-AR) Update: This was the father of the current Sen. Pryor.  

Additionally, Leahy (D-VT) and Rockefeller (D-WV) didn't vote on the measure and are listed as "not present."  

Ruling out Lieberman of course, that leaves 7 living Democratic Senators who have actually voted to significantly damage the power of the filibuster.  Pryor, as a member of the "Gang of 14" (along with Lieberman) in 2005 is probably not going to go along, but if Leahy or Rockefeller joins, and the other 6 still feel the same, Chris may already have his Gang of 7.

Inside, the text of the Lieberman/Harkin amendment, and Lieberman's complete speech that day.  I rather hope if Chris' plan comes to pass, another Senator rises to support it and reads it verbatim just to spite Holy Joe.

Daniel De Groot :: 7 Sitting Democratic Senators have already voted to gut the filibuster
No links, Thomas links all seem to expire.


Mr. HARKIN (for himself, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Pell, and Mr. Robb) proposed an amendment to the resolution (S. Res. 14) amending paragraph 2 of Rule XXV; as follows:
At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. XX. SENATE CLOTURE PROVISION.
Paragraph 2 of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate is amended to read as follows:

`2. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of rule II or rule IV or any other rule of the Senate, at any time a motion signed by sixteen Senators, to bring to a close the debate upon any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, is presented to the Senate, the Presiding Officer, or clerk at the direction of the Presiding Officer, shall at once state the motion to the Senate, and one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one, he shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the clerk call the roll, and upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by a yea-and-nay vote the question: `Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?' And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn--except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting--then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.
[...]

`(b)(1) If, upon a vote taken on a motion presented pursuant to subparagraph (a), the Senate fails to invoke cloture with respect to a measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, subsequent motions to bring debate to a close may be made with respect to the same measure, motion, matter, or unfinished business. It shall not be in order to file subsequent cloture motions on any measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, except by unanimous consent, until the previous motion has been disposed of.
`(2) Such subsequent motions shall be made in the manner provided by, and subject to the provisions of, subparagraph (a), except that the affirmative vote required to bring to a close debate upon that measure, motion, or other matter, or unfinished business (other than a measure or motion to amend Senate rules) shall be reduced by three votes on the second such motion, and by three additional votes on each succeeding motion, until the affirmative vote is reduced to a number equal to or less than an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. The required vote shall then be an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. The requirement of an affirmative vote of a majority of the Senators duly chosen and sworn shall not be further reduced upon any vote taken on any later motion made pursuant to this subparagraph with respect to that measure, motion, matter, or unfinished business.'

Perhaps David Waldman (Kagro X) or some other parliamentary expert can chime in, but I believe the mechanism Lieberman was employing would have been able to alter the filibuster on a simple majority vote - he was trying to amend the Senate resolution that sets the rules for the Senate for that Congress.  This seems to be another way to circumvent the 2/3 majority needed to change the rules.

And Lieberman's speech:


AMENDING PARAGRAPH 2 OF RULE XXV (Senate - January 04, 1995)

Mr. LIEBERMAN addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, thank you.

I am very proud to join with my colleague from Iowa in cosponsoring and supporting this amendment. A new day has dawned here on Capitol Hill today. A new majority has come to power; but, hopefully, more than a new majority--a new sense of responsiveness to the public, a new understanding of what it means to do the public's business here in Congress, and a new openness to looking at some parts of the operation in Congress which we have previously either not questioned or felt it was inappropriate to question.

I must say that over the last couple of years, as I watched the filibuster being used and, I think, in my respectful opinion, ultimately misused and overused, it seems to me that what had originally appeared to be a reasonable idea was being put to very unreasonable use.

Therefore, I promised myself that if I was fortunate enough to be reelected by the people of Connecticut to return for the 104th Congress, I would do what I could to try to change this filibuster rule, which I am afraid has come to be a means of frustrating the will of a majority to do the public's business and respond to the public's needs. And so when I heard that Senator Harkin had put this program and plan together, I called him and I said, `My distinguished colleague and friend, I admire you for what you are doing.' There are those who undoubtedly will think this is a quixotic effort, that it is a kind of romantic but unfeasible effort.

It is important now to make this effort to show that we have heard the message and that we are prepared to not only shake up the Federal Government but shake up the Congress. And not just for the sake of shaking it up, but because of a fundamental principle that is basic to our democracy, that is deep into the deliberations of the Framers of our Constitution and appears throughout the Federalist Papers, which is rule of the majority in the legislative body. It is this majority rule has been frustrated by the existing filibuster rule. So I am privileged to join as a cosponsor with my colleague from Iowa in this effort.

Mr. President, whenever I explain to my constituents at home in Connecticut that a minority of Senators can by a mere threat of a filibuster--not even by the continuous debate, but by a mere threat of a filibuster--kill a bill on the Senate floor, they are incredulous. When I tell them that now as a matter of course a Senator needs to obtain 60 votes in order to pass a bill to which there is opposition, frankly, the folks back home are suspicious.

When I explain how often the threat of a filibuster has been used to tie the Senate in knots and kill legislation that is actually favored by a majority of Senators--and the filibuster was used more times last year than in the first 108 years of the Senate combined--well, the folks back home honestly think I am exaggerating. Unfortunately, I am not. Those are the facts.

Mr. President, when I entered the Senate 6 years ago, I asked to be briefed by a staff person at the Congressional Research Service on the Senate rules. I wanted to figure out how the place worked.

I must say, after that briefing, I, like my constituents, was incredulous. I had been the majority leader of the Connecticut State Senate, so I had some familiarity with parliamentary procedures, but I must say I did not understand how the Senate's debate and amendment rules were being used to keep the Senate, presumably the greatest deliberative body in the world, from getting things done.

Like many Americans of my generation, I remembered the dramatic filibuster battles of the 1950's and 1960's and assumed that filibusters were relatively uncommon and were employed only in the great issues of the time which divided a country. I assumed--like most Americans, I would guess, drawing from probably the broadest experience America has had with filibusters, which is mainly `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' when James Stewart stood in that magnificent portrayal and carried out a principled filibuster --that filibusters were to be reserved for only the most significant of legislative battles.

While I quickly learned that while real filibusters are uncommon, current Senate rules allow the mere threat of a filibuster to rule the way we do or do not do business.

The gentleman from the Congressional Research Service used a powerful analogy here. He said to me, `Senator, you have to think of the Senate as if it were composed of 100 nations, each Senator representing a nation, and each nation has an atomic bomb and can blow up the place any time it wants. And that bomb is a filibuster.'

That may make us feel good about our power and our authority, but it is not the way to run the greatest deliberative body in the world. In fact, I state this with some humility because I do not remember the exact quote, I asked the gentleman from the Congressional Research Service, `Is there any precedent for this kind of procedure in the history of legislative bodies?'

He said he thought the closest modern precedent was a Senate that sat in Poland in the 18th century which, because of unique historical circumstances that are not to the point, with approximately 700 members, the rule was that nothing could be done without unanimous consent. That, I hope, is not the model that we aspire to copy here.

What was once an extraordinary remedy, used only in the rarest of instances, has unfortunately become a commonplace tactic to thwart the will of the majority. Just as insidiously, allowing legislation to be killed on procedural votes, as we so often have here in the Senate, protects us from having to confront the hard choices that we were sent here to make and, in that sense, makes us a less accountable body.

Mr. President, this has to end and it will not end unless an effort begins to end it as we are attempting to do here today. As I believe Senator Harkin has indicated, the Senate filibuster rule has actually been changed five times in this century. In most cases, particularly when the changes were substantial, they did not occur the first time the proponents charged the fortress. Perhaps they will not occur on this occasion. But I know Senator Harkin and I are prepared to keep fighting until this change occurs because of what is on the line, which is the credibility and the productivity of the U.S. Senate.

The change that we are proposing, as Senator Harkin has indicated, will make it more difficult for a minority of Senators to absolutely stop, to block, to kill Senate action on legislation favored by a majority of the Senate, but it will still protect the ability of that minority to be heard before up or down majority votes on legislation are taken. It will give the minority opposed to what the majority wants to do the opportunity to educate and arouse the public as to what may be happening here to give the public the opportunity perhaps to change the inclination of the majority.

The procedure of succeeding votes with 2-day intervals, 60 being required, first 57, 54 and finally a simple majority of Senators being able to work its will--our intent here is to give the minority a chance to make their case and to persuade others but not to continue to grant them an effective veto power which they now enjoy.

We recognize that the opposition to this proposal is bipartisan, just as the use of the filibuster rule has been bipartisan. We also understand that as Members of the new minority, Senator Harkin and I perhaps are not the likeliest people to be proposing to limit the powers of the new Democratic minority, but we both firmly believe that regardless of how our resolution may limit our personal options as Members of the minority party in the Senate in the short-term, it is essential that this reform be undertaken now when the problem of filibuster-created gridlock is so fresh in all of our minds.

For too long, we have accepted the premise that the filibuster rule is immune. Yet, Mr. President, there is no constitutional basis for it. We impose it on ourselves. And if I may say so respectfully, it is, in its way, inconsistent with the Constitution, one might almost say an amendment of the Constitution by rule of the U.S. Senate.

The Framers of the Constitution, this great fundamental, organic American document considered on which kinds of votes, on which issues the will of the majority would not be enough, that a vote of more than a majority would be required, and the Constitution has spelled those instances out quite clearly. Only five areas: Ratification of a treaty requires more than a majority of the Senate; override by the Senate of a Presidential veto requires more than a majority; a vote of impeachment requires more than a majority; passage of a constitutional amendment requires more than a majority; and the expulsion of a Member of Congress requires more than a majority.

The Framers actually considered the wisdom of requiring supermajorities for other matters and rejected them.

So it seems to me to be inconsistent with the Constitution that this body, by its rules, has essentially amended the Constitution to require 60 votes to pass any issue on which Members choose to filibuster or threaten to filibuster.

The Framers, I think, understood--more than understood--expressed through the Constitution and their deliberations and their writings, that the Congress was to be a body in which the majority would rule.

I know that some of our colleagues will oppose the alteration, the amendment, that Senator Harkin and I are proposing on the grounds the filibuster is a very special prerogative that is necessary to protect the rights of a minority. But in doing so, and I say this respectfully, I believe they are not being true to the intention of the Framers of the Constitution, which is that the Congress was the institution in which the majority was to rule, not to be effectively tyrannized by a minority. And the Framers, Madison and the others, who thought so deeply and created this extraordinary instrument that has guided our country for more than 200 years now, developed the system in which the rights of the minority were to be protected by the republican form of government, by the checks and balances inherent in our Government and ultimately by the courts applying the great principles of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, to protect the rights of a minority that might be infringed by a wayward majority.

So this procedure that has grown up over the years has turned the intention of the Framers, in my opinion, on its head, and in doing so has not only created gridlock but has given power to a minority as against the will of the majority. The majority in the Senate, as reflecting the majority of the people of the United States, has allowed that minority to frustrate the will of the majority improperly.

So I think this is at the heart of the change for which the people have cried out. It is right, and it is fair. It is our belief in that most fundamental of democratic principles, majority rule, that motivates our introduction of this amendment. I am confident that if we ever put this issue, or could put this issue, before the American people for a vote, they would direct us to end the current filibuster practice. Majority rule is not and should not be a controversial proposition. Minority rights are protected by the checks and balances in our system.

Mr. President, it is my pleasure as a Senator from Connecticut to welcome the occupant of the chair as a new Member of the Senate. Perhaps you have observed from your viewing of the Senate before you arrived here that our problem seems not to have been that things move through this institution too quickly, that we hastily trample upon the rights of the minority. The problem, if anything--and it is not a bad problem and it does carry out the intention and will of the Framers--is that there are a lot of checks and balances here, and it is often hard to do the people's business and respond to the people's needs, and the filibuster has made it even harder to do so.

So I thank the Chair and the Senate for their indulgence. I congratulate again my colleague from Iowa for initiating this forthright and, in its way, courageous attempt to change the status quo, and I urge my colleagues to support the amendment.
Jan 4, 1995. (59.) 141 CONG, REC. 38 (1995) (statement of Sen. Lieberman)


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People took bullets. (4.00 / 1)
John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.

Don't think they died so that Obama could reenact the Jimmy Carter administration.


The Pryor listed is Mark's father David. (4.00 / 2)
He was way more liberal than his dopey son.

Check out Blue Arkansas:
http://bluearkansas.blogspot.com/


is this a theme? (0.00 / 0)
like bayh: liberal dad, moderate sellout son

should we stay away from recruiting sons of liberal legislators?


[ Parent ]
We should amend the Constitution (4.00 / 2)
to bar anyone from holding high federal office (judge, member of Congress, Pres, VP, or cabinet member) if they are directly related (child, parent, spouse, sibling) to someone who has also held federal office.  

Solves that problem, as well as ensuring the Bush dynasty ends.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Absolutely not (4.00 / 1)
Children, spouses, siblings etc. are their own people, and should not be barred from office simply for the crime of being related to someone who already served in office.

To think that the idea of "liberal dad, stupid centrist son" is actually a trend, rather than a few cases that are fun to talk about, is absurd.  I, for example, am well to the left of my parents, and am glad of it.


[ Parent ]
It is not a punishment for a crime (0.00 / 0)
High office is not property. The point is that any one of these people get advantages that the vast bulk of the population do not. They come from privileged backgrounds and have a head start in getting political support that reduces their reliance on the population at large. That doesn't make them bad people, but it does harm democracy.

While my suggestion would address this trend, it's not inspired by it. In fact, it is inspired by several provisions of the Constitution that are designed to prevent aristocracy. Clearly, those provisions don't go far enough.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
People can't choose their families (0.00 / 0)
except in the case of spouses, I suppose.

What you're saying is an argument for a better election system, one's that publicly funded and devoted towards coverage of all candidates.  But any election is going to have candidates that are ahead for whatever reasons - money, name recognition, etc.  There's no way to stop that without essentially dictating who can run and who can't, which is a violation of people's right to run for office.


[ Parent ]
I am all for clean elections (0.00 / 0)
but no, this is a separate problem. It's not that some candidates merely have advantages, it's that we have a political aristocracy, which is not in the spirit of the Constitution.

There are already two limits on who can run for office in the Constitution - an age limit and the natural born limit. Both were anti-aristocracy measures. I favor keeping the latter, ending the former, and adding my own suggestion. I don't believe there is a personal right to run for office - and I assume most would agree unless they are ready to jettison these existing limits.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
For the record I agree that the age limit should be done away with (4.00 / 1)
I'm not entirely sure about the requirement to be natural born but I lean towards getting rid of it as well.

In general I think the less restrictions on who can run, the better.  Restricting who can run for office limits choice and is fundamentally anti-democratic. (I'm against term limits for this same reason.)

If you're worried about a political aristocracy, reform our elections system so that everyone is competing on a level playing field, and let the voters decide.  If the voters have access to information about all candidates and they consciously choose the dynastic candidate, that's their choice.  Far be it for me to tell them they shouldn't have that choice.


[ Parent ]
That also means (0.00 / 0)
Ted Kennedy wouldn't have been a Senator.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Or his brothers (0.00 / 0)
Joe Kennedy Sr. was the first SEC chairman.  Since he held "high federal office" then JFK and RFK would be ineligible.

Al Gore would be out too.


[ Parent ]
SEC chair is not a cabinet member (0.00 / 0)
But yes, RFK and Gore would be out...if this provision operated within a time warp.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
It wouldn't have barred him from public life (0.00 / 0)
There are many great things people can do outside of federal office. (Of course, this would be forward looking.)

But for every good person you can name, there are plenty of bad ones.  That said, this isn't about good or bad but about opening up the political establishment to greater popular control.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Concur. (4.00 / 1)
Dynasty should be explicitly addressed in the Constitution of any government.

[ Parent ]
Seems like it. (0.00 / 0)
I once heard David Pryor have to tell a rather angry old lady that he'd tried talking to his son about his votes but he just won't listen to him!

Mark isn't only more conservative than his dad, he lacks his brains as well...

Check out Blue Arkansas:
http://bluearkansas.blogspot.com/


[ Parent ]
Pat and Jerry Brown in CA (0.00 / 0)
Too bad it's the annoying son who's the Democrats' only current (undeclared) candidate for Governor.

Wasn't Al Gore Sr. to the left of Al Gore Jr.?

And of course we can't forget George H.W. vs. George W. Bush.


[ Parent ]
Al Gore Sr. voted against civil rights (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
Al Gore Jr (0.00 / 0)
is a far better ex-politician than a politician. He was a fairly conservative Dem who played it safe in order to secure his chance at the presidency. Once freed of that, he had a far more positive impact on our politics. He might have been that guy in the beginning if he had not been born and bred to win the White House.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
The Junior Senator From Connecticut (0.00 / 0)
    Why do you list Sen. Joseph Isadore Lieberman as ("I"-CT)?
    By long-standing custom and usage, a Senator is listed as a member of the party on whose line he was elected in his most recent election, unless he later changed his party affiliation. 98 other senators are identified by the party which nominated them in their most recent election, and Sen. Specter is identified as a Democrat because he declared himself to be a Democrat in April, 2009. Senator Lieberman was elected as the candidate of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, and has not, to the best of my knowledge, left that party and declared himself to be independent of it.
     He is properly identified as (CFL-CT).


if we're being formal (0.00 / 0)
We're both wrong, as current roll calls list Lieberman as "ID-CT" (Independent Democrat), which is how he asked to be identified.  

Anyway my only point was to distinguish him from being a Democrat.  When the vote cited above was taken in 1995, he was though.


[ Parent ]
It ticks me off when people refer to Lieberman as "I" or an "independent" (0.00 / 0)
when he should be properly referred to as an "Independent Democrat" ("ID"), and informally as "Arrogant Asshole".

[ Parent ]
The Electorial College, Superdelegates & Filibuster... (4.00 / 1)
are just three of the most egregious anti-democratic institutions of our political system, none seems likely to change anytime soon -- to most Senators of either party asking them to abolish the filibuster is like asking a bar owner to crusade for prohibition of alcohol or a steakhouse owner to become a vegetarian.  An awful lot of Senators see power not as getting something done but instead as stopping something, maybe everything -- it is who they are and what they do.  Most of all they want to stop anything that might erode thier individual power such as the tradition of the "hold."

I hope they do filibuster this corporate welfare bill. (0.00 / 0)
More importantly is Bernie Sanders threatening to filibuster if they don't have a bill worth passing.  How about some support for Bernie standing up for people, all alone and again?    

The GOP killing health reform (4.00 / 1)
would be a great outcome, and set up the "narrative" (why are we so God Damned childish in America?) for 2010:

Obama tried, the GOP blocked him.

Currently, the narrative is Obama is either a coward or a sell out to Wall Street.

If that doesn't change, 2010 could be a real stunner.

(I promise not to gloat)


[ Parent ]
Go ahead and gloat, I won't mind. (0.00 / 0)
Candidate Obama raised visions of Elmer Gantry every time I listened to him.  His "rock star" status was an omen of Obamsbots to come.  

[ Parent ]
It wasn't that long ago that Democrats were praising the filibuster (0.00 / 0)
Remember a few years ago when the GOP controlled everything?  The filibuster was vital then.

Be careful what you wish for - sooner or later the GOP will be back on top.


Simple majoritarianism (4.00 / 1)
is neither popular nor sound.

I suggest trying to restore the filibuster to an actual filibuster where you have to debate.


nor would it be (4.00 / 1)
The result of the demise of the filibuster.  There would still be the following anti-majoritarian measures in place:

1) the electoral college
2) the undemocratic apportioning of senators to states irrespective of population, including territories and DC not having any representation at all
3) the bill of rights
4) the very high bar for constitutional amendments
5) staggered senate elections
6) 2/3 approval for senate impeachment convictions and treaty ratification


[ Parent ]
Here's the problem. (4.00 / 1)
We will never legislate our way out of a paper sack unless we can do something about the disgustingly undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate.

However, what justice demands is that debate and legislation not be blocked by Senators representing a minority of the U.S. population.

This is why progressives who want the filibuster gone in this environment, but fear its absence in a Republican majority are not applying a double standard -- under a Republican majority, the 50 votes passing evil laws (no filibuster) could represent a small minority of the population, and the 38 votes trying and failing to stop it (even with the filibuster) could represent the majority.

I'm afraid there's not an obvious solution to this more profound problem.

(Apologies for repeating a comment -- I added this to the previous filibuster diary without realizing it was dead.)


That's assuming the conservatives are always in the minority in public opinion (0.00 / 0)
As much as we like to think so, our views are not always held by the majority of the public.

[ Parent ]
No, not really (4.00 / 1)
It has more to do with the vast disparity in number of constituents per senator.  In 2004, 3 million more people voted for a Democratic senate candidate than a Republican one, and yet the Republicans ended up with a 55 seat caucus.

So even when Republicans are in the majority, as so much of their caucus represents low-population states, they will tend not to represent a popular majority of senate voters.


[ Parent ]
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