New Rules: Majority Rules

Friday, November 22, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) hold a news conference on Capitol Hill, November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

The Senate has voted on the "nuclear option" and changed the rules for how executive-level appointees and most judges get approved. Bob Cusak, managing editor for The Hill, discusses the change and what precedent it sets for future Senate work.

Famous Filibusters in History: Would They Still Be Allowed? (Spoiler: Mostly Yes)

  • Ted Cruz anti-Obamacare marathon wasn't even a real filibuster to begin with.
  • In 1983 Jesse Helms filibustered to block Martin Luther King day from being a holiday. Still counts.
  • Strom Thurmond famously filibustered the Civil Rights Act for 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957. Would have counted.
  • Jimmy Stewart was filibustering an appropriations bill, of all things, in "Mr Smith Goes to Washington."
  • In West Wing Season 2, there's an epic filibuster of a health care bill. Still allowed.
  • The only famous filibuster (we can think of) that would not be allowed was Rand Paul's 2012 marathon. He was trying to block the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director -- exactly the kind of executive-level appointment these new rules target.


Bob Cusak

Comments [25]

Wait 'til it starts happening from the other side.

Dec. 29 2013 07:30 PM

@Amy from Manhattan:

You might find this helpful.

"Alan Frumin discusses the role of the Senate parliamentarian and his aides in advising the presiding officer of the Senate on parliamentary procedure. He also talks about specific Senate rules, including the concept of germane amendments and cloture."

Dec. 20 2013 08:28 PM

Seems I may have incorrectly copied the link to Senator Levin's remarks;
it is:

Dec. 02 2013 10:04 AM

Not that I'm in agreement with Senator Levin on other points, but it seems his analytical position and factual assertions should have been given some consideration and public airing, especially on a station that is part of a network justifying its direct subsidy from the public treasury and the indirect subsidy of tax expenditures granted not only to individual's donations but also to a growing number of corporate "announcements".
(Send "Greetings" to Billie Tisch the next time you have her relative, the NYS Board of Regents Chancellor, on the show.)
It justifies these depredations by claiming to be more particularly intelligent and sensitive to the nuances of public issues than other "commercial" public news and affairs outlets.

[Senator Levin's remarks are presented by recording and transcript.
I would hope that you or your producers would see the value of making the link to this material a permanent part of the textual intro material to this show.]

" . . . The issue, Mr. President, is not whether to change the rules. I support changing the rules to allow a president to get a vote on nominees to executive and to most judicial positions. What this is all about is ends and means. Pursuing the nuclear option in this manner removes an important check on majority overreach. As Senator Vandenberg said, if a Senate majority decides to pursue its aims unrestrained by the rules, we will have sacrificed a professed, vital principle for the sake of momentary convenience. . . . "

Nov. 24 2013 01:07 PM

Note to the below:

It was the guest who put out the incorrect information about the parliamentarian's ruling against Senator Reid's power grab; hear it at approximately 18;17+.

Nov. 22 2013 09:22 PM

Amy from Manhattan asks about the role of the parliamentarian in the Senate.
It's not clear that an accurate answer can be obtained in these precincts given the guest's and Mr. Lehrer's apparent lack of knowledge on the senate parliamentarian's role in yesterday's vote.

The senate parliamentarian is appointed by the Senate Majority Leader, at the present time Senator Reid, to act as referee on how the rules of the Senate (mostly "Robert's Rules of Order") govern the procedures of the Senate. Is it "in order" to take a vote, submit a bill for debate, adjourn.

The rulings of the parliamentarian are appealable to a vote of the entire body - it can be sustained or reversed by a simple majority vote. (I myself would like to hear an explanatory segment on the parliamentarian's role and ethics (maybe the current parliamentarian could be a guest?) )

If you wish to rely on the Washington Post's account
[ ]

" . . . Reid went nuclear. He raised a point of order calling for a majority vote to move forward. The Senate parliamentarian ruled Reid's motion out of order. Reid then appealed the ruling, and 52 Democrats supported him. That vote, in effect, altered the Senate rules: A simple majority is now sufficient to cut off filibusters on nominations.

That maneuver, in itself, is a huge deal. In the past, a two-thirds majority has been required to change the Senate's rules in the middle of the session. The fact that Reid changed the rules with a simple majority sets a new precedent — that's why it's known as the "nuclear option."

I forget whether the guest or Mr. Lehrer incorrectly stated that the parliamentarian supported Senator Reid's power grab, but it is clear that either through conscious dissemblance or negligent lack of preparation [how does the NY Times or NPR describe the parliamentarian's action] the misinformation was allowed to go out over the air without an immediate correction.

(I have no doubt that by next Fall, Mr. Lehrer will be "intimating" that Mr. Reid's usurpation resulted from a popular groundswell of demand to "fix" the Tea Party's deleterious effect on the Affordable Care Act.)

Seems that the progressive left-wing is looking to cement the gains it achieved with the "legerdemain" that passed Obamacare.

Nov. 22 2013 11:55 AM

At last! I've been waiting for Reid to call the GOP on their bullsh*t for five years!

Can we recall that Norm Coleman drew out his recount for the Minnesota senate seat ate up the first six months of the 'filibuster proof' majority? Al Franken finally took his seat in July and the Senate summer recess started 3 weeks later. When they returned, Ted Kennedy had died. So much for that.

The GOP has been practicing a very cynical game of court loading for years. Pushing their own ideologues when in office, blocking non-ideologues when not. By controlling access to the bench, they control the long arc of socio-economic history. They have done something similar with the budget. Spending like drunken sailors when they have their hands on the budgetary reins and decrying (falsely) THE DEFICIT when the opposite side is in control. It us just so much bullsh*t. They have failed (and in my view will always fail) to put their money where their mouths are, opting instead to put our money into their donors pockets.

Limiting filibusters on Presidential nominations is one step to actually running the country like a democratic republic and I am happy for it. Next, I would like to see the ratified but unenacted 'Article the First' of the Constitution put in to effect. The House should have 6,000 voting seats by now.

Nov. 22 2013 11:36 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ anon

Yeah thanks for the population figures. While we're at it let's take away RI, DE and VT... Total population for those states isn't even 2 million. Take away the student population and it's probably closer to 1 million for all three. Where is your senate majority now?

The Senate was DESIGNED to provide a counterbalance to the House where representation is proportional to population and guess who runs that? Drrrr... We have an interest in letting wackos have their say and even pointlessly obstruct from time to time to preserve their faith in the political system. Not just to avoid revolution but to lessen the appeal of genuinely dangerous political voices gaining prominence.

Nov. 22 2013 10:31 AM
Chuck Durante

Cusack places himself on many bookers' Rolodexes, but his clichés are tiresome.

Nov. 22 2013 10:30 AM
Pablo Alto from da' Bronx

Enough with the hyperbole!!!!!

I find the word "disaster" is being tossed around blithely by people in the media and in the public discussion of health care.

Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and Typhoon Haiyan were REAL disasters. A balky website and insurance companies canceling policies to shake up the consumers they cover is NOT a disaster!!!!

Nov. 22 2013 10:25 AM

Robert - I like your term "Insurance gougers". As a family of the self-employed we still are getting royally gouged from their policies. It was rampant before the Affordable Care Act and the Affordable Care Act seems to be toothless in putting a stop to it.

Nov. 22 2013 10:23 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Reid should have done this a year ago. It's nice to see that he has finally grown a spine. It's ridiculous that the senate should need a super majority for simple appointments.

Nov. 22 2013 10:22 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I really don't know much about the role of the Senate Parliamentarian. Could you have a segment sometime soon about this office?

Nov. 22 2013 10:21 AM

Today it is just appointments, but he handwriting is on the wall, the filibuster will be totally gone in the foreseeable future. Good riddance.

The US Senate is totally undemocratic and the idea of majority tyranny against Lamar Alexander is ludicrous. Forty US Senators represent just 20% of the US population. The minority is already running the show. When Barbara Boxer votes she votes on behalf of almost 20 million people, while the 12 senators from WY, SD, ND, MT, ID and IA represent less than 10 million...

Nov. 22 2013 10:21 AM

Don't forget the wonderful filibuster episode of The West Wing. A Senator (Republican, I think) with an autistic grandson decided to filibuster to retain or add funding for autism. He was rather frail but game. Bipartisan senate grandparents rallied to spell him, and whatever it was finally passed.

Nov. 22 2013 10:18 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Pointless Republican obstructionism has brought us to this point. That being said this was a very stupid move by the Dems which they will regret at some point. Demographics are on their side but never underestimate the power of a right wing backlash to put wackos in office. Chris Hedges observed quite correctly that radical political movements will always originate on the Conservative spectrum in this country (Tea Party) and this can only exacerbate it. It's better to lose a battle than unify your enemies.

Nov. 22 2013 10:12 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I, too, am relieved about this initiative. I think all Americans are sick and tired of the GOP holding up appointments and legislation. This Congress is going on record as the least productive in history and rather than Republicans objecting to the rules change, they should be apologizing with their tails between their legs for their behavior.

This country is supposed to be a Democracy where the majority rules and the GOP (especially the "tea party") have just been bad sports about the fact that they can't get what they want in government, even though their constituents may not want that. I don't know when our representatives will learn that they are beholden to their constituency, NOT to lobbyists and PACs, but this is a start.

Lamar Alexander is full of you-know-what; majority rule is not tyranny.

Nov. 22 2013 10:12 AM
Andrew from Brooklyn

The Senate rules change should be considered along with the Boehner Rule in the House. Both the filibuster and the Boehner Rule permit minorities to block majority votes. So, the efforts of the Senate majority to legislate are not only blocked by the filibuster but also by Boehner's refusal to put votes to the House on legislation passed by the Senate.

Nov. 22 2013 10:10 AM
RLF from Yonkers

The Dems have less to lose here because they have historically been less cohesive in their stopping the repubs. The reps. are relentless and cohesive...hence more disruptive.

Nov. 22 2013 10:09 AM
Robert from NYC

Baloney Alexander, it's in the constitution, majority vote, and it should have been passed for votes across the board not just for presidential appointments. They have the nerve to talk political abuse? That's what they've been doing in the opposite direction with Obama, sorry, Oh Bummer. The president has lost my support since year two but fact is he's been treated like garbage by these repubs since in office. He's been treated so badly I feel for him but facts too he's tried to work with these sleaze bags and after so long of maltreatment he should have just put his foot down (as Reid has finally done here at least 1/2 way) and as Roosevelt did with his congress and ride through the crap and get things done. This administration has done very little and even his so called big legislation ACA is garbage because he yielded to them, the blue dems and the insurance gougers. It's time to give DC and big enema and clean out the halls of congress to fill with all new, reasonable, intelligent people... if there are any left.

Nov. 22 2013 10:08 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

@ Ed: It's not court-packing to fill existing but empty court seats.

Nov. 22 2013 10:08 AM
Joe from nearby

@Ed- So how is filling open judicial vacancies "packing the courts" exactly? Didn't hear you complaining when Bush did it. Another empty Fox talking point.

Brian- The Repubs believe they will take the Senate next year, which is why they think this anti-filibuster move will end up working in their favor. Question- how realistic is their belief of taking the Senate?

Nov. 22 2013 10:07 AM

Ed, as usual you are promulgating propaganda.
Filling vacancies in the federal judiciary is NOT COURT PACKING!

Nov. 22 2013 10:06 AM

Democracy restored. In part!

Nov. 22 2013 10:03 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Obama’s packing of the courts will greatly accelerate now (the DC Court in particular).

Nov. 22 2013 08:58 AM

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