Washington, DC – Senate rules reform received a jolt of energy this past week following the defeat of the bi-partisan Manchin-Toomey background check amendment. Despite the support of nearly 9-out-of-10 Americans and despite the fact that the amendment won majority support in the Senate with 54 votes, the measure ultimately failed because of the threat of a filibuster that subjected the amendment to the same 60-vote threshold ordinarily reserved for ending filibusters.
In reaction to the failed vote, President Obama, senators and outside observers weighed in on the issue of rules reform to highlight the fact that the latest round of obstruction is only furthering the disconnect between the Senate and the interests of the American people. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reinforced this notion by publicly mocking the defeat of the popular amendment on his Facebook wall.
Quotes of the Week
- President Obama, Washington Post: “A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward. I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here, because the American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen?”
- Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Yale Daily News: “This vote has turned me from a proponent [of abolishing the filibuster] into a revolutionary … There’s never been a bigger gap between the American public and a Senate vote.”
- Senator Angus King (I-ME), Press Herald: “Asked whether the votes made him question the filibuster reform negotiated earlier this year, King simply replied, "Yes."
- Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Bill Press Show: “[Obstruction impactful] On judges, on filling judicial vacancies, on getting to important legislation, like the Manchin-Toomey universal background check bill, and quite possibly on important provisions within the immigration bill. If there’s going to be improvements for refining the immigration bill it’s going to happen in committee. Because on the floor, getting anything done takes 60 [votes], and we are regretting not making changes to the filibuster.”
- Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Huffington Post: "Everything needs 60 votes today. This is supposed to be a majority body."
- Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, Washington Post: “The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.”
- James Fallows, The Atlantic: “Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine … As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill -- and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.”
- Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo: “Similarly, it remains unclear that Democrats have 51 votes to weaken the filibuster via the nuclear option, which they have the ability to invoke in the middle of the congressional session. The fragile emotions surrounding the issue for liberals make Democratic senators wary of sticking their necks out against it. But behind the scenes some fear that raising the cost of filibustering could come back to haunt them when Republicans retake the majority and seek to, say, gut abortion rights with 51 votes.”
- Norm Ornstein, New York Daily News: “But the combination of partisan polarization, the misuse and abuse of the filibuster to thwart majority will and the increasing and troubling skew of power in the Senate to small and unrepresentative states compared to earlier eras in American history are now outweighing that influence. New Yorkers have reason to be angry at the Senate’s failure. They have reason to be angrier at how the system is skewing against them.”
- Beverly Gage, professor of modern American political history at Yale University, New York Times: “The voting process on gun control legislation worked, more or less, as it was supposed to work. A majority of senators voted in favor of a measure supported by a majority of the American people. The problem is that this no longer counts for much in the United States Senate … Getting rid of the true filibuster once served a democratic purpose. It no longer does. If senators want to thwart the will of a majority of the American voters, they should at least have to work for it.”
- Aaron Belkin, professor of political science at San Francisco State University, New York Times: “Surely there is plenty of shame to go around. But responsibility belongs to the president and to Democratic leaders who lack the wisdom and courage to get rid of the filibuster … But if Democrats want to deliver real reform at some future point, they should get rid of the filibuster now, while they control the Senate. Otherwise, the seas will continue to rise. Dozens of Americans will die from gunshot wounds every day.”
- Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It doesn't have to be that way. If real filibuster reform had happened in January, Mitch McConnell and his merry band of nihilists would have had to stand on the Senate floor and talk for hours about why they were thwarting the will of the people, why they were thumbing their noses right in the faces of still-grieving Newtown families. If real filibuster reform had happened in January, the majority will of the people would have had at least a chance at prevailing in the Senate.”
- Bob Edgar, President and CEO of Common Cause: “Upwards of 90 percent of Americans support strengthened background checks for gun purchasers … The Senate’s answer today is a cowardly dodge behind an antiquated rule. Senators must not do the gun industry’s bidding by manipulating the rules of the chamber at the expense of the public interest … If there are senators who want to filibuster these amendments, let them come to the floor and explain themselves, and keep explaining until they convince a majority to join them or run out of things to say. Let’s have a real debate and then let’s allow the majority to work its will. That’s how the Senate – how America – is supposed to work.”
Headline of the Week
- “Democracy Weeps, Filibuster Kills Again”
For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, firstname.lastname@example.org