Ending a filibuster before it starts

Ending a filibuster before it starts
Ending a filibuster before it starts
Associated Press

At least for now, it appears likely that most of the Senate will support a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. But as Capitol Hill observers know all too well, in the upper chamber, a mere majority is generally insufficient – could proponents put together a supermajority to overcome a filibuster?

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who drew headlines in March with his filibuster marathon, told reporters yesterday, “I can’t imagine that we won’t require 60 votes on this…. Whether there’s an actual standing filibuster, I’ve got to check my shoes and check my ability to hold my water. And we will see. I haven’t made a decision on that.”

The decision may not be his to make. Roll Call reports that Senate opponents of military intervention in Syria “might not even get a chance to filibuster.”

If Senate leaders take all the proper steps, the resolution to authorize the use of force against Syria might not only jump to the front of the schedule, but it could even short-circuit any filibuster attempts.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 created a special privileged status for resolutions reported from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that are in compliance with other legal provisions. The reward for drafting a compliant resolution? The measure becomes the pending business on the Senate floor without debate or the risk of a long series of debate-limiting cloture votes.

The piece added that Senate leaders could use the normal legislative procedures, which would slow things down, and leave more time for arm-twisting and grandstanding. But if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other leaders support a resolution to use force, feel like they have the necessary votes, and don’t want to give Rand Paul a platform, they’ll likely want to take advantage of the alternative avenue*.

And this leads us to the other procedural question hanging over the debate: what about the so-called “Hastert Rule” in the House?

Roll Call had a good piece on this, too.

With Speaker John A. Boehner announcing Tuesday that he supports intervention in Syria, there is one question the Ohio Republican has yet to answer: Would he bring the Syria resolution up for a vote if it didn’t have the support of a majority of Republicans? The short answer: Yes.

Boehner has never said he would abide by the rule in all circumstances, and this seems to be an instance where Boehner would bring Syria to a vote regardless of where his conference stands.

A House GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday: “Given the Constitutional requirements, and the fact that so many of our members have asked for a vote, I can’t imagine it would be an issue.”

Putting aside the merits of U.S. military strikes in Syria, applying the “Hastert Rule” in a case like this really would be an international fiasco. While it seems likely that most House Republicans will oppose the measure, as we discussed yesterday, the Speaker really won’t be in a position to tell the world, “Sorry, I couldn’t bring the resolution to the floor because of a made-up procedural standard.”

I don’t know if a House majority will support the resolution or not, but if the 218 votes are there, it’ll pass, “majority of the majority” notwithstanding.

That said, if Boehner ignores the “Hastert Rule” on this, it’ll be the fifth time this year he’s chosen to do so.

* Update: Reid is reportedly eyeing the normal legislative procedure, which would certainly increase the likelihood of Paul’s filibuster.

Hastert Rule, Filibuster, Rand Paul, Syria and Filibusters

Ending a filibuster before it starts