Public & Progressive Support Builds for Real Reform, Not Handshake Agreements

Engagement in “Week of Action” and Ruling in Common Cause Lawsuit Raise the Stakes

Washington, DC – This week saw a series of important developments regarding the U.S. Senate rules reform debate. While a small number of Senators pushed for another handshake agreement, reminiscent of the failed “gentleman’s agreement” of 2011, the general public, the progressive movement, and a court ruling all made clear that another handshake is not enough. The Senate must pursue real Senate rules reform. Among this week’s developments:

Week of Action Engages Public Support for Real Reform, Not Handshake Agreements: The more than 50 member organizations of the Fix the Senate Now coalition launched a “Week of Action” this week to highlight the public support behind real Senate rules reform. Polling released last week shows the public overwhelmingly supports Senate rules changes. As part of the week of activity, the coalition contacted more than 2 million members and generated texts, emails and so many phone calls that the U.S. Capitol switchboard was shut down for a time. Coalition members distributed flyers to Senate offices, helped generate nearly half a million Facebook likes, and are continuing the petition drive enabling ordinary Americans to stand up for real Senate rules and filibuster reform. Coalition organizations participating in the Week of Action include: Sierra Club, CWA, MoveOn, UAW, Working Families Party, Common Cause, AFL-CIO, IBEW, Alliance for Justice, NAACP, CREDO, and Demos and many more. Senate rules reform champion Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) issued a new video to commend the outpouring of support on behalf of real Senate rules reform.

Common Cause Lawsuit Decision Raises Stakes for U.S. Senate to Enact Real Reform:
A federal district judge today dismissed the Common Cause lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 60-vote provision of the filibuster, and Common Cause is considering its legal options. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan did not rule on the merits of the challenge but only on standing. In fact, despite dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Sullivan stated in his ruling that the "filibuster rule is an important and controversial in recent years, even the mere threat of a filibuster is powerful enough to completely forestall legislative action." The Common Cause lawsuit has helped to ratchet up attention to the fact that the way the filibuster is practiced today – not to mention the current levels of obstruction – is not what the constitutional framers had in mind. The ruling makes clear that at this point, real Senate reform will come only if the Senate acts in January.

Letters from Fix the Senate Now and BlueGreen Alliance Document Broad Progressive Support for Reform: The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of 14 environmental and labor partners representing over 15 million members, issued a letter this week urging the Senate to stand up for the democratic process by adopting filibuster reform. The letter notes the Alliance’s opposition to the “current use of the filibuster” because “it curtails – and even outright prevents – crucial debates on key issues.” The BlueGreen Alliance letter follows on the heels of a separate letter signed by 51 national organizations in the Fix the Senate Now coalition making the case that proposed rules changes such as encouraging a “talking filibuster” are essential components of reform.

Coalition Leaders Make Case for Rules Reform on Press Conference Call: Nan Aron from Alliance for Justice, Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, and Larry Cohen of Communications Workers of America gathered on a press call on Thursday, December 20th, highlighting why Senate rules reform is sorely needed. Listen to the press conference here.

Progressive Leaders Coalesce Around Need for Senate Reform:
Among the leaders who voiced reasons why the Senate status quo is broken and that the Senate should pursue a substantial package of reforms include:

  • Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice: “The filibuster was intended to be used in extremely rare instances involving fundamental matters of principle – matters so important that Senators were willing to endure a little physical discomfort, stay on the Senate floor and talk for as long as it took.”
  • Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club on Huffington Post: “Leaving the rules as they are is not an option. A ‘handshake’ deal between senators won't work, either. That's all been tried before, and the problem has only gotten worse. Our nation faces too many challenges and opportunities -- spurring clean-energy growth, helping middle-class families, addressing the climate crisis -- to settle for a ‘do-nothing’ Senate.”

  • Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America (CWA), on Huffington Post: “Our coalition also believes filibustering senators should actually hold the floor and speak on the subject. The American people are entitled to a debate, especially on issues that have majority support.”
  • Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: “If a senator is determined to block a majority from passing legislation, at the very least they should have to stand up and explain why. That’s what democracy requires – the American people deserve to know who is stopping the Senate from doing the people’s work.”
  • Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP in The Guardian: “These days, a senator can block democracy while enjoying a cocktail in the cloak room. We need filibuster reform that encourages transparency and discourages cowardice.”
  • Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA: “Senators need to take the floor and talk if they want to filibuster, not phone it in. The American people deserve to know where the people we send to Washington, DC stand.”
  • Miles Rapoport, President of Demos: “It’s time to fix the Senate now so we can get back to the hard work of creating pathways to a diverse middle class and achieving a true democracy for all Americans.”
  • Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW: “The Senate was designed to be slow-moving, not inert. Given the pernicious obstructionism, it is imperative the Senate adopt new rules, including filibuster reform, to ensure senators actually vote on the many issues and nominations before them.”
  • Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority: “The Republicans are abusing the filibuster and women are paying the price. The Senate Republicans have filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act."

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit  

Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,