The Senate Just Changed Its Filibuster Rules

It’s actually happened.

National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Nov. 21, 2013, 7:17 a.m.

The Sen­ate is glow­ing. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Harry Re­id has gone nuc­le­ar, and the Sen­ate is (very mod­estly) changed.

After the Sen­ate again failed to move Pa­tri­cia Mil­lett’s nom­in­a­tion to the D.C. Cir­cuit Court, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id chal­lenged the rul­ing of the chair that 60 votes would be needed.

The Sen­ate then voted, by simple ma­jor­ity, to dis­ap­prove of the rul­ing of the chair. Very few Demo­crats — Sens. Pry­or, Lev­in, and Manchin — joined Re­pub­lic­ans to vote to pre­serve the 60-vote rule. Re­id had 52 Demo­crat­ic votes (in­clud­ing his own) to sup­port the change.

As of today, ex­ec­ut­ive and ju­di­cial nom­in­ees—ex­clud­ing Su­preme Court nom­in­a­tions—can be ap­proved by a simple, 51-vote ma­jor­ity.

Up­date (2:05 p.m.): In a White House state­ment, Pres­id­ent Obama said he sup­por­ted the ac­tions by the ma­jor­ity of sen­at­ors to change the fili­buster rules. Though he said Demo­crats were par­tially to blame for the way the Sen­ate has got­ten over years, he said things have to change.

“All too of­ten,” the pres­id­ent said, “we have seen a single sen­at­or or a hand­ful of sen­at­ors choose to ab­use ar­cane pro­ced­ures.”

“The vote today I think is an in­dic­a­tion that a ma­jor­ity of sen­at­ors be­lieve as I be­lieve that enough is enough.”

Grid­lock has “harmed our eco­nomy and it’s been harm­ful to our demo­cracy,” Obama said. “I real­ize that neither is party is blame­less for these ac­tions. “¦ But today’s level of ob­struc­tion just isn’t nor­mal.”

“Pub­lic ser­vice is not a game,” Obama said. “It is a priv­ilege,” and Amer­ic­ans “de­serve bet­ter.”

Up­date (1:45 p.m.): At a press con­fer­ence, Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship wasn’t ready to break out the cham­pagne. Harry Re­id said that “this is not a time for cel­eb­ra­tion.” Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., also echoed Mitch Mc­Con­nell, say­ing that “today is a sad day.”

Asked if he’s con­cerned about Mc­Con­nell fully do­ing away with the fili­buster, Re­id said “Let him do it…Let him do whatever he wants…This is the way it had to be. The Sen­ate has changed.”

Up­date (1:23 p.m.): Sen. Mark Pry­or, D-Arkan­sas, was one of three Demo­crats to vote against the rule change. Why did he join Re­pub­lic­ans? In a state­ment, he said that “Today’s use of the ‘nuc­le­ar op­tion’ could per­man­ently dam­age the Sen­ate.”

Sen. Carl Lev­in, who also voted with Re­pub­lic­ans against the change, said that “when the pre­ced­ent is set that a ma­jor­ity can change the rules at will on judges, that pre­ced­ent will be used to change the rules on con­sid­er­a­tion of le­gis­la­tion, and down the road, the hard-won pro­tec­tions and be­ne­fits for our people’s health and wel­fare will be less se­cure.”

Up­date (1:18 p.m.) Sen. Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, took to the Sen­ate floor to con­grat­u­late Harry Re­id on the fili­buster change. “I’ve waited 18 years for this mo­ment,” he said.

Up­date (1:11 p.m.): Mitch Mc­Con­nell isn’t ready to talk about re­venge. This, Mc­Con­nell said, is “a day to be sad.”

Up­date (1:05 p.m.): Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship will soon hold a press con­fer­ence on the rule change. We’ll have up­dates on that as they come in.

Up­date (12:57 p.m.): The Sen­ate is now vot­ing on clo­ture for Pa­tri­cia Mil­lett, which now only needs a simple ma­jor­ity. She’s likely to get it. However, at that point there is a 30 hour wait peri­od, and it’s un­likely that Re­pub­lic­ans will yield back time.

Just in case you sud­denly thought things would start mov­ing quickly, just a re­mind­er: it’s still the United States Sen­ate.

Up­date (12:52 p.m.): Sen. Tom Ud­all, D-N.M., who has long pushed for Sen­ate fili­buster re­form is pleased. “Fi­nally, we have re­form,” he tweeted. Oth­er sen­at­ors, not so im­pressed. “This isn’t just a shame for the Sen­ate. It’s scary and dic­tat­ori­al for our coun­try,” tweeted Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter.

Up­date (12:40 p.m.): Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., has found deals in the past to avoid this very out­come. He said he has been en­gaged in talks for two weeks.

“I spent an hour in Harry Re­id’s of­fice” on Wedneday, Mc­Cain said. “I’ve reached [out] un­til my arm aches.”

When asked if he’s still meet­ing, he said, “It’s too late.”

“It puts a chill on the en­tire United States Sen­ate,” Mc­Cain ad­ded.

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ors like­wise said they didn’t see a way out. “They’re go­ing to make the bed they’re go­ing to sleep in,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. said of Demo­crats. (By Elahe Iz­adi)

Up­date (12:34 p.m.): The fi­nal vote was 52-48 in fa­vor of chan­ging the rule. Sen. Pat Leahy, from the chair, said that the rul­ing of the chair is that the “threshold for clo­ture on nom­in­a­tions, not in­clud­ing the Su­preme Court, is now a ma­jor­ity.”

Mitch Mc­Con­nell has asked for the yeas and nays. But, bar­ring an un­likely re­versal, the Sen­ate has of­fi­cially voted to sig­ni­fic­antly al­ter its fili­buster rules.

Up­date (12:30 p.m.): Not all Demo­crats are on the nuc­le­ar train. Sens. Pry­or, Manchin and Lev­in have voted with Re­pub­lic­ans against the rule change.

Up­date (12:27 p.m.): The Sen­ate is still vot­ing, but it’s look­ing like Demo­crats should have enough votes. Sen. Bar­bara Box­er’s no vote, fol­lowed by Harry Re­id’s at 12:27 may seal the deal.

Up­date (12:17 p.m.): Re­id spokes­man Adam Jentleson tweets: “(This is it, folks.)”

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