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Filibuster Changes Becoming Sore Point on Senate Floor

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McConnell spoke against a Democratic proposal to change Senate filibuster rules again on Tuesday.

For the second day in a row, Senate leaders locked horns over a Democratic proposal to change Senate filibuster rules, with both sides invoking the late Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who was known as a guardian of the institution.

“I recall when our late colleague spoke on this topic at a Rules Committee hearing the last time the majority leader entertained breaking the rules to change the rules,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, citing a 2010 hearing when Democrats were looking at their options in the face of an increasing number of filibusters.

“And Sen. Byrd was unequivocally against violating Senate rules to change the rules the way the current majority leader proposes,” McConnell continued.

Just as he did on Monday, McConnell used his opening remarks to savage the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for proposing the changes. On Tuesday, he likened the Democrats’ proposal to the GOP’s unfulfilled threat to use the “nuclear option” to do away with filibusters of judicial nominees in 2005. In that case, Reid, who was then minority leader, and Democrats opposed changing the rules by a simple-majority vote, rather than abiding by rules that require a 67-vote supermajority to end debate on rules changes.

“When he was in the minority, my friend from Nevada objected strenuously to the very procedure he now wants to employ,” McConnell said. “He called using a simple-majority maneuver to change senate procedure the ‘nuclear option’ and described it as ‘breaking the rules to change the rules.’”

At the time, Republicans defended the effort by calling it the “constitutional option.”

“Now that he’s in the majority, he says the ends justify the means,” McConnell continued. “He says we have to make the Senate more efficient and we have to violate the Senate’s rules to do so, so that he and his colleagues in the majority can implement more easily their vision for America.”

Changes to the Senate rules typically have to overcome a 67-vote hurdle, but some Democrats have argued that the chamber’s rules also allow for changes to be made with the consent of 51 members if those changes are voted on at the beginning of the congressional session.

Reid has threatened to change the rules by a simple majority to try to make the Senate more legislatively productive. He has mentioned doing away with filibusters of motions to proceed, which must be adopted before the Senate can take up a bill or nomination. Reid said he doesn’t think the change will set a bad precedent and appears not to fear living with it if Democrats, at some point, return to the minority.

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