Elizabeth Warren gets it. The other major contenders in the Senate less so, although Gillibrand and Bernie at least seem open to the idea:
Senate Democrats pursuing the White House are split on whether to even consider getting rid of the chamber’s longstanding supermajority requirement. The debate is heating up as the race for the presidential nomination begins and will largely determine whether the party can enact a “Green New Deal,” Medicare-for-All and other top priorities on the left.
“Everything stays on the table. You keep it all on the table. Don’t take anything off the table,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said when asked about the fate of the filibuster. “That’s a clear answer. You’re not going to have a clearer answer than that.”
Countered Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another likely presidential contender: “We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster. It’s one of the distinguishing factors of this body. And I think it is good to have the power of the filibuster.”
Democrats hold 47 Senate seats now and have a realistic shot at winning the majority back in 2020, but absolutely no prospect of getting a filibuster-proof 60 seats anytime soon. There are other ways around the 60-vote threshold, but they come with their own drawbacks, leaving the “nuclear option” of unilaterally killing the filibuster as perhaps the only way to advance major progressive changes the next time Democrats have unified control of Washington.
The filibuster has been under constant erosion over the past decade. Yet the legislative filibuster is a third rail in the Senate: The bulk of each party doesn’t want to get rid of the minority’s ability to block legislation, reasoning that over time the filibuster has driven bipartisanship and staved off extreme policy shifts.
But with Democratic candidates beginning to tout a sweeping agenda, the debate is shifting — especially as progressive activists push 2020 candidates to do away with the maneuver.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spoke of the value of the filibuster in remarks to the liberal Pod Save America last week. However, in an interview on Thursday, she said it was an issue she’s still evaluating.
“It’s a very important question. I want to weigh all the pros and the cons over the next few weeks. I think it’s something that my colleagues will consider heavily,” said Gillibrand, who’s exploring a 2020 run. “Having just lived through being in the minority and how destructive the 51-vote threshold has been for Supreme Court justices, I just want to think long and hard about it.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another potential White House contender, gave a nearly 30-minute speech on Thursday touting his plans to tax the wealthy. But he wasn’t quite ready to have a debate on how to pass it in the Senate with 41 senators able to block it: “Very good discussion. But not for today, OK? First of all we’ve got to take back [power]. You’re too far ahead.”
Changing the legislative filibuster would be enormously difficult. Many senators in both parties oppose the move, and it would almost certainly have to be done on a party-line basis. It’s also generally considered bad practice to talk about changing the rules in the majority while you’re in the minority: Democrats didn’t even discuss the filibuster at their annual retreat this week, said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
The filibuster, as we have argued at some length, is just completely indefensible from a democratic perspective. And if that’s not enough, one would hope the next Democratic president will understand that the filibuster more or less guarantees that they will have failed presidencies.