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Filibuster Reform Returns to the Fore

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Durbin said Wednesday that the Senate needs to revisit its filibuster rules.

As one Republican senator launched a “talking filibuster” Wednesday, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the Senate signaled it may already be time to reopen debate about the chamber’s rules.

In the month and a half since the chamber approved modest filibuster rule changes, Republicans have attempted to filibuster three presidential appointments, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., noted.

“We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate,” Durbin said.

At the start of this Congress in January, Senate leaders reached a bipartisan agreement to slightly alter the chamber’s rules in a bid to make the Senate work more efficiently. None of the rules changes affected circuit court or Cabinet appointees, and at most, the changes merely reduced the amount of time any senator could hold up a vote on whether to proceed with a filibuster. In no case was the ability to filibuster eliminated.

“I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we’re headed, we need to revisit the rules again,” the Illinois Democrat said. “We need to go back to it again. I’m sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work.”

Just hours after Durbin made his comments, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took the floor to “actively filibuster” the nomination of John O. Brennan to be the next CIA director. Paul pledged to talk as long as possible to express opposition to the Obama administration’s policy regarding targeted killing of American citizens using drones.

Paul’s speech came shortly after Senate Republicans successfully led an effort to filibuster the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Halligan has been one of the most contentious nominees of President Barack Obama’s tenure. In 2011, she failed to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican opposition, but Obama renominated her this year. On Wednesday morning, 60 votes were needed to advance her nomination, but she was blocked on a 51-41 vote.

Liberal groups outside the Senate were furious with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats for what they view as a failure to make good on threats to use the “nuclear option” to change the rules. Though Senate rules state two-thirds of the chamber are needed to overcome a filibuster of a rules change, Reid had contemplated using an option promoted by Democrats that would have allowed him to alter the filibuster rules at the beginning of the Congress by a simple-majority vote.

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