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McConnell Summons Democrats to Talk Rules Changes

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Lamar Alexander said he has reached out to Members from both parties and reminded Democrats that procedural tactics such as the filibuster could work in their favor if they are thrust into the minority following the 2012 elections.

It’s not as if Republicans have been open publicly or privately to the changes. Alexander showed a three-and-half-minute video to Conference members last week highlighting Democratic statements made against filibuster reform. The brief video shown at last week’s GOP luncheon includes footage of floor speeches by Reid, Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and even then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) made in 2005 when Republicans considered limiting debate on judicial nominees. Alexander also cribbed more recent comments from Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who devoted the bulk of his retirement speech on the floor last week to speaking out against changing Senate rules. 

“To my fellow Senators who have never served in the minority, I urge you to pause in your enthusiasm to change the Senate rules,” Dodd says in a clip in the video. 

Invoking the words of notable Democrats, including the late Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who was a fierce defender of Senate rules, Alexander said he showed the video to remind colleagues of the need to protect minority rights. 

“What I’m really trying to do is help members of our caucus and the Democratic caucus understand why, as Sen. Byrd used to say, why we have a Senate,” Alexander said in an interview last week. 

Alexander said he has reached out to Members from both parties and reminded Democrats that procedural tactics such as the filibuster could work in their favor if they are thrust into the minority following the 2012 elections. 

“It sounds appealing to say, if you’re a Democrat today, we’ve got 58 or 59 votes, we’d like to create a freight train to run through the Senate just like the House does,” Alexander said. “It’s not as appealing when you think about the fact that in two years the freight train might be the Tea Party Express with [Sen.] Jim DeMint [R-S.C.] as the conductor and the Democrats might not like that.” 

Of course, Republicans could get a reprieve from rules changes given Democrats have been struggling to come up with a consensus proposal and have only three weeks to do so.

If Democrats want to change the rules without facing the customary 67-vote threshold, they will have to follow a precedent set in the 1970s, when filibuster rules were changed by a simple majority, or 51 votes, on the first day of the new Congress.

But so far, Democrats are not in agreement on whether to use the simple majority option, and Republicans would need to pick off only four Democrats to kill that plan anyway.

“We’re in this tough stage of building a consensus,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a staunch proponent of filibuster reform. “How do you get 51 Senators to agree as to what the rules are and at the same time reach out to Republicans to see if there is a different way we can use the rules than what we’re doing right now?”

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