Vice President Kamala Harris supports changing the filibuster practice in the Senate in order to limit the ability of the minority party to easily block legislation, her office confirmed to Fox News Wednesday.
Harris’ office said that the vice president is aligned with President Biden on the issue of the filibuster. Biden told ABC Tuesday that he supports a move to a “talking filibuster,” which requires senators opposing senators to constantly speak on the Senate floor in order to block a final vote on a bill.
“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden told ABC. “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”
Harris’ move to agree with Biden’s talking filibuster proposal represents a continued shift in her stance on the filibuster.
She signed onto a 2017 letter led by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, which supported leaving in place “existing rules, practices, and traditions” on the filibuster. Republicans controlled the Senate, House and White House at the time, meaning that the filibuster was the only major procedural lever Democrats had to slow the GOP’s agenda.
Then, runnning for president in 2019, Harris said at a CNN town hall that is Republicans “fail to act” on Green New Deal legislation, “I am prepared to get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal.”
For decades, the legislative filibuster has been a 60-vote threshold on what is called a “cloture vote” — or a vote to end debate on a bill — meaning that any 41 senators could prevent a bill from getting to a final vote. If there are not 60 votes, the bill cannot proceed.
This is what Democrats did to a police reform bill from Sen. Tim Scott. R-S.C., and multiple GOP-backed coronavirus relief proposals last year. It’s also what Republicans have threatened to do to several of Democrats’ top legislative priorities.
Defenders of the filibuster in its current form say it forces compromise. Detractors say it makes blocking legislation too easy on the minority.
“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” Biden said to ABC.
The “talking filibuster” — as it was most recently seriously articulated by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in 2012 — would allow 41 senators to prevent a final vote by talking incessantly, around-the-clock, on the Senate floor. But once those senators stop talking, the threshold for a cloture vote is lowered to 51.
This would essentially set up a test of wills between a minority and a majority in the Senate, allowing a determined majority to wait out the minority and eventually pass a bill. Or, if a minority is determined enough, they would wear down the majority until it pulls the bill to move onto something else.
“That’s what it was supposed to be,” Biden said on ABC.
But some warn that moving to a talking filibuster has its own pitfalls. Mainly, under a talking filibuster system, the Senate cannot take care of any other business while the filibuster is going on. Currently, it is able to multitask even if a minority blocks one piece of legislation.
And Republicans are warning that any changes to the current 60-vote cloture threshold would lead them to consider any bipartisanship in the Senate dead.
“So let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues. Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “None of us have served one minute in a Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent. This is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn the lights on before noon, to proceed with a garden-variety floor speech.”
McConnell added: “I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum. Which, by the way, the vice president does not count in determining a quorum. This chaos would not open up an express lane for liberal change. … The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup, nothing moving.”
Progressives who favor ending the filibuster recently gained some hope that they may be able to at least weaken it when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on “Fox News Sunday” that he would be open to making it more “painful” for a minority to filibuster.
Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., earlier this year reiterated their support for the legislative filibuster. That gave McConnell the reassurances he said he needed to let up on demands that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., put filibuster protections in the Senate’s organizing resolution. Schumer called the demand “extraneous” as there was no such provision in the last organizing resolution for a 50-50 Senate, which the leaders were using as a template for their negotiations.
“My colleagues and I have refused to kill the Senate for instant gratification,” McConnell said Tuesday. “I meant it. Republicans meant it. Less than two months ago, two of our Democratic colleagues said they mean it too. If they keep their word, we have a bipartisan majority that can put principle first and keep the Senate safe.”