Hagel Filibuster a Reminder of Missed Senate Rules Reform Opportunity & Need for Revisit

Washington, DC – The unprecedented Republican filibuster of Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel highlights why the U.S. Senate still needs to enact more substantial rules reform, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said today.

We agree with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who has called the filibuster of “qualified nominee” Chuck Hagel “tragic.” But the filibuster also illustrates the missed opportunity at the start of this 113th Congress to enact more substantial Senate rules reform that would have raised the costs of obstruction. The Fix the Senate Now coalition supports reforms that would have forced those filibustering the Hagel nomination to hold the floor and keep 41 of their colleagues with them over the upcoming holiday weekend. 

Leading Senate reform champions and outside observers say the filibuster also provides good reason for the Senate to revisit the issue of rules reform:

  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in a statement: “Merely weeks after the Senate came together in a good-faith effort to fix the Senate’s problems, Senate Republicans are now engaging in the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee. It is deeply disappointing that even when President Obama nominates a former conservative colleague of the GOP caucus, the minority is abusing the rules and the spirit of ‘advise and consent.’  If our step we took last month is to be successful, extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen.”
  • Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), in the New Mexico Telegram: “The first filibuster of a Secretary of Defense in history shows the Senate very well may need further rules reform…the proposal by Senators Udall and Merkley would not have prevented this filibuster – they never intended to take away that right to debate. But under their proposal, filibustering a cabinet nominee would have required a sustained effort. If they failed to do so, a majority of the Senate would be able to move forward.”
  • Greg Sargent, in the Washington Post: “…if Hagel does go down, it’s hard to imagine anything happening that makes as eloquent a case for Reid and Democrats revisiting filibuster reform than this affair will have done. Remember, the watered down filibuster reform deal Reid agreed to was at least partly premised on the idea that both sides were at least somewhat committed to ending some of the abuses that rendered the Senate dysfunctional during Obama’s first term. We now see that Republicans are making a mockery of that arrangement.”
  • John Avlon, in the Daily Beast: “And the abuse of the filibuster to try to block—or at least delay—the confirmation of a secretary of defense again raises questions about filibuster reform. Because if a senator had to hold the floor and risk his bladder—like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—while keeping at least 41 of his colleagues on the floor over Presidents’ Day weekend, my guess is that this block never would have occurred.”