Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) nearly 13-hour long talking filibuster in protest of the Obama administration’s drone policy instantly made him a folk hero with the right. But the spectacle also provided a healthy dose of oxygen to reignite the cause of filibuster reform.
On the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) capitalized on Paul’s talkathon to invoke the importance of a traditional filibuster where obstructing senators occupy the floor and speak until one side gives in.
“We should all reflect on what happened yesterday as we proceed with other nominations, including a number of judicial nominations,” Reid said. “This can be a Senate where ideas are debated in full public view — and obstruction happens in full public view as well. Or it can be a Senate where a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors, without ever coming to the Senate floor.”
Ironically, on the same day as Paul’s talking filibuster, Senate Republicans quietly filibustered the judicial nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the coveted D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, by withholding the votes to let her move forward. Reid used the juxtaposition to go after the GOP’s practice of filibustering in the dark.
“My Republican colleagues love to extol the virtues of ‘regular order.’ If only we could get back to the days of regular order, they say, the Senate would function again,” Reid said. “Yesterday we saw both sides of that. On one hand my Republican colleagues did not practice regular order. Instead they demanded a 60-vote threshold for confirmation of a qualified nominee, Caitlin Halligan, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans hid behind a cloture vote — a filibuster by another term — to prevent a simple up or down vote on this important nomination. They took the easy way out.”
“On the other hand, one Republican senator did return to regular order. And, as is his right, he spoke for as long as he was able,” he said. “That is a filibuster.”
The Democratic leader’s remarks were more subtle than the explicit threats Wednesday from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the leading supporter of filibuster reform, to revisit the cause. But Reid’s comments unmistakably express his view that the bipartisan rules reform enacted earlier this year has not brought Republicans to end their practice of silently filibustering.
Democrats expressed hope that the January deal would usher in a new era of comity in the chamber. But since then, Republicans have mounted numerous filibusters, including the first-ever filibuster of a secretary of defense nominee (Chuck Hagel), a letter from 43 GOP senators vowing to block any nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the filibuster of a bill to avoid sequestration and the Halligan nomination.
At the time, Reid rejected Merkley’s proposal to require talking filibusters, instead choosing a more modest reform that preserved the 60-vote threshold. Although his comments Thursday wink at revisiting reform, it’s not clear he intends to do so. He may simply be using the occasion to shine a light on Republican obstruction and pressure them to willingly change.
“I have been involved in a few filibusters, as Rand Paul did yesterday,” Reid said. “And what I have learned from my experiences in talking filibusters is this: to succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder. It’s obvious Senator Paul has both.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.