The Senate’s ‘Talking Filibuster’ Might Rise Again

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tags: filibuster, Senate

If the filibuster did not exist, Senate Democrats could use the hair-thin majority they won in January to pursue an ambitious legislative agenda.

Some Democrats have called for abolishing the filibuster, a procedural tactic that essentially makes it impossible to pass legislation without a 60-vote supermajority.

They lack the votes to do it. But this week, President Biden signaled support for something else: a return to a more old-fashioned way of filibustering.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it, what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” the president said in an ABC News interview. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.”

The president’s comments came after a Democratic senator who opposes ending the filibuster, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, told an interviewer he was open to making the procedure “a little more painful.”

The tactic Mr. Biden referred to, sometimes called a talking filibuster, is the kind illustrated in the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which the title character, portrayed by James Stewart, takes a stand against corruption by sermonizing on the Senate floor until he faints.

In the real-life chamber, where proceedings are often bogged down by bureaucracy behind the scenes, filibusters can drum up public drama.

They can be policy-focused, as when Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, railed for eight hours in 2010 against tax breaks for the richest Americans. And they can be irreverent, as when Senator Alfonse D’Amato, Republican of New York, sang a Gene Autry song in 1992 during a 15-hour speech as part of an effort to keep a typewriter company from moving hundreds of jobs to Mexico.


But colorful, marathon speeches are increasingly rare. The Senate began modifying the rules in the 1970s, when senators became concerned that talking filibusters reflected poorly on the Senate and endangered the health of older members. Today, the mere threat of a filibuster is enough: Senators can keep contentious measures from reaching the floor just by registering their objections privately.

Read entire article at New York Times

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