Last autumn, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) came out just as resolutely against a reform of the filibuster as any democrat.
“I think the filibuster has a purpose. It’s not used often, it’s often less used now than it was when I first arrived, and I think it’s a part of the Senate that is different from others, “she said in September. (In reality, the number of filibusters – or at least the number of votes cast to break filibusters – has grown dramatically in recent years.)
The Senator’s support for the rule, which essentially requires most bills to get 60 votes to pass the Senate, was seen as so strong that the Conservative National Review only published an article on Friday afternoon with the triumphant headline, “Feinstein Still Supports the filibuster. “In this piece, Feinstein is quoted as saying,” I’ll do it now, yes “when asked if she supports maintaining the 60-vote requirement.
But the National Review piece appears to have had a very short shelf life. In a statement released on Friday evening, Feinstein said she was “open” to changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules, if necessary, to include laws such as expanded background checks for gun purchases, re-approval of the law against violence against women, or a voting rights law to adopt.
“Ideally, the Senate can reach a bipartisan agreement on these issues,” the 87-year-old senator said in the statement. “But if that proves impossible and Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster by demanding cloture votes, I am open to changing the way the Senate filibuster rules are applied.”
Feinstein’s journey from being a vocal defender of filibuster to one more open to reform mirrors that of many of her fellow Democrats. For example, in 2017 Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was one of two main organizers behind a letter signed by 61 Senators urging Senate leaders to “maintain existing rules, practices and traditions” that enable Senators to operate filibusters Legislation.
Still, Coons, widely regarded as a close ally of President Joe Biden, said last summer that he was open to reform because “he would not stand idle for four years watching the Biden administration’s initiatives at every turn blocked “.
Biden himself advocated some sort of reform earlier this week, saying, “In the past,” a senator who wanted to keep a filibuster had to “stand up and speak up” and “keep talking.” The president suggested that the Senate reintroduce this requirement and allow the majority to end a filibuster when its supporters stop making speeches in the Senate – creating what is known as a “speaking filibuster”.
Even Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a Senator who has repeatedly stated that he wants to keep the filibuster alive in some form, has stated that he is open to demanding speaking filibusters – although Manchin refuses to open the door to open the filibuster reform for other types.
That leaves Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who said last month that she would even support strengthening the filibuster by rolling back previous reforms, as the primary democratic obstacle to reforming the filibuster. Since the Democrats control exactly half of the 100 seats in the Senate plus the Vice Presidency, they will likely need every single member of their caucus to back the filibuster reform in order for a filibuster reform to pass.
The momentum appears to be on the side of the “speaking filibusters”, but it is not clear that such a reform would be of much importance
If filibuster reform passes the current Senate, it will likely involve some form of “talking” filibuster. This reform appears to have the greatest support among Democrats, who appear cautious when it comes to getting rid of the filibuster for good. Feinstein’s statement says, for example, that a speaking filibuster is “an idea that is worth discussing”.
However, requiring at least one Senator to speak against a bill in order to block it is unlikely to do much to reform the Senate on its own. In its simplest form, a speaking filibuster only needs a senator assisting a filibuster to be on the ground at any given time. As long as the 50 members of the GOP caucus are allowed to tag the team, each taking turns maintaining the filibuster, they could theoretically keep a filibuster running forever.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) recently proposed more robust reform designed to bypass any tag team effort. At least 41 senators who oppose the legislation must remain on the ground during an ongoing filibuster. However, some people seemed to take this idea off the table earlier this week.
During an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, Biden suggested sponsoring a different limit for filibusters. According to Biden’s idea, a pro-filibuster senator would say if he took a break while speaking for this filibuster: “Someone could move in and say, I am moving the question from” – a motion to “move” a “question”, may relate to a procedural maneuver aimed at ending the debate on a matter and forcing a vote.
This could create a messy but effective process of ending filibusters as senators hoping to block the legislation grew tired and, as vigilant senators from the opposing party, looked for ways to force filibuster votes.
In any case, negotiations on the reform of the filibuster in the Senate are still in flux. And it remains to be seen whether holdouts like Sinema will move towards reform. But Feinstein’s recent statement is good news for anyone who hopes opponents of filibuster reform will tone down their stance – and for anyone who wants an ambitious legislative agenda to get the Senate passed within the next two years.