Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 13-hour filibuster brought renewed attention to the debate about civil liberties and counter-terrorism, but it also reinvigorated proponents of reforming how the Senate functions – or in most cases, doesn’t function.
In fact, Paul’s timing helped reinforce a larger argument. Yesterday morning, Senate Republicans filibustered a qualified judicial nominee with a wave of their hand. We also recently saw Senate Republicans, for the first time in American history, use a filibuster to deny a cabinet nominee an up-or-down vote, again with no real effort. These same GOP senators recently vowed to use filibusters to block President Obama’s ATF and CFPB nominees.
And yet, there was Paul, showing what a filibuster is supposed to look like. The Democratic leadership apparently noticed.
On the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) capitalized on Paul’s talkathon to invoke the importance of a traditional filibuster where obstructing senators occupy the floor and speak until one side gives in.
“We should all reflect on what happened yesterday as we proceed with other nominations, including a number of judicial nominations,” Reid said. “This can be a Senate were ideas are debated in full public view – and obstruction happens in full public view as well. Or it can be a Senate where a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors, without ever coming to the Senate floor.”
Referencing Paul’s speech, Reid added, “That is a filibuster.”
Well, yes, that’s true, but while the Majority Leader explains what kind of Senate the institution “can be,” I hope he also reflects on the fact that he’s protected the dysfunctional status quo more than once.
On Oct. 27, 2010, Reid appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, asked about filibusters, said, “The Republicans, just this time have abused the system, and it’s going to have to change. We’ll have to look at ways to change that, because there should not be 60 votes in the Senate.”
A few months later, at the start of the 112th Congress, Reid had an opportunity to reform the rules, but he backed down, accepting instead a hand-shake deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which effectively changed nothing.
Two years later, after voters re-elected a Democratic Senate majority once again, Reid had another opportunity to reform the filibuster, and he again chose not to. The Majority Leader said, “I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold,” which is pretty much the opposite of what he told Rachel in October 2010.
And so, here we are again, with Reid understandably frustrated, lamenting a situation in which “a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors.” It’s within the Majority Leader’s power to pursue reform options; the question at this point is whether Reid will ever be prepared to act.