Sep 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Harry Reid on eliminating filibuster: It's a matter of "when," not "if"

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday addressed the question of whether Democrats will eliminate the legislative filibuster if they take control of the Senate, telling CNN that it's "not a question of if it's going to be gone, it's only when it's going to be gone."

Why it matters: Current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that "nothing is off the table" if Republicans move ahead with replacing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election — a threat that likely includes abolishing the Senate's long-standing 60-vote threshold in order to pass sweeping legislation.

  • Multiple Democrats have already come out in favor of the move, though eliminating the rule would significantly reduce the ability of the chamber's minority party to block legislation, be that Republicans or Democrats.
  • Democrats would have to win a simple majority of 51 seats this year to change Senate rules and eliminate the filibuster, or they could claim a simple majority by gaining at least a total of 50 seats and the White House, using the vice president to break tie votes.

Worth noting: In 2013, Reid eliminated the 60-vote threshold for executive branch and federal judiciary appointments, but not Supreme Court nominations — a decision that some critics say allowed President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to confirm a record number of federal judges when they took power.

  • McConnell later extended the so-called "nuclear option" to Supreme Court nominations during Justice Neil Gorsuch's confirmation.

What they're saying: "I think this is going to be a change election," Reid said. "I believe Biden will be elected by a nice margin, Pelosi will build upon her margin that she has in the House and we're going to retake the Senate."

  • "We got a Democratic president. We got Pelosi in the House, and we've got a Democratic majority in the Senate. It's the time to do some really, stunningly important things."
  • "And one thing they're going to have take a look at — I don't want to get too far in the weeds — but when we get rid of the filibuster — the filibuster is not a question of if it's going to be gone, it's only when it's going to be gone."

The big picture: Former President Obama endorsed eliminating the filibuster in July in order to pass voting rights legislation, including ending partisan gerrymandering, making Election Day a federal holiday and automatically registering Americans to vote.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed eliminating it the same day as Obama after first rejecting the idea during the Democratic primary debates in 2o19.

It's unclear where Joe Biden stands on the filibuster. He has yet to say if he would direct his Senate allies to pursue abolishing the rule if elected president with a Democratic majority in the chamber.

  • He told the New York Times in July that it will "depend on how obstreperous they become,” referring to Republicans.

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