This is not the good news one would wish on the filibuster — no surprise with every Democratic senator having a veto — but as good a news as can be expected right now:
Senate Democrats are signaling they will reject an effort by Mitch McConnell to protect the legislative filibuster as part of a deal to run a 50-50 Senate, saying they have little interest in bowing to his demands just hours into their new Senate majority.
McConnell has publicly and privately pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work to keep the 60-vote threshold on most legislation as part of their power-sharing agreement. Democrats have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they’re about to govern.
Many Democrats argue that having the threat of targeting the filibuster will be key to forcing compromise with reluctant Republicans. They also believe it would show weakness to accede to McConnell’s demand as he’s relegated to minority leader.
“Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader. We can get shit done around here and we ought to be focused on getting stuff done,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “If we don’t, the inmates are going to be running this ship.”
“It would be exactly the wrong way to begin,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We need to have the kind of position of strength that will enable us to get stuff done.”
Four years ago, as McConnell himself came under pressure from former President Donald Trump to gut the filibuster, 61 senators signed a letter to Senate leaders emphasizing the importance of protecting the supermajority requirement. And even now Democrats like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia say they want to keep the filibuster, emphasizing that it drives compromise.
For that reason, the filibuster appears safe for the immediate future regardless of what happens in the coming days. If Democrats were to change it, it would likely be in response to Republicans blocking their bills repeatedly. And there’s plenty of pent-up angst in the Democratic Party, which is now in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time in more than a decade.
The best hope for getting rid of the filibuster is for McConnell and his conference to act in such bad faith obstructionism that Manchin, Sinema and any other holdouts can be compelled with the Greatest Reluctance to vote to blow it up (as senators like Leahy were when McConnell blockaded the D.C. Circuit in 2013.) And until then the threat of doing so, which Republicans are clearly worried about, needs to be used as leverage.
Susan Collins says the quiet part loud:“You want to do it before there’s an emotional, difficult, controversial issue. So that it isn’t issue-driven, it’s institution-driven,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who organized the 2017 letter from rank-and-file senators to Schumer and McConnell.
“You want to do it before we do something particularly bad” is what she means, and yeah no. But this should once again illustrate what should be obvious: the legislative filibuster still exists only because it is a huge net benefit for reactionary interests, and as soon as there’s an opportunity to get rid of it is should be done.