As the November elections near, many Democratic senators are becoming increasingly vocal about employing the “nuclear option,” a simple majority overrule, to remove the filibuster. According to The Hill, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) began to recirculate discussions with his Democrat colleagues about abolishing the filibuster as Joe Biden’s poll numbers rose.
“I am talking with everyone in the caucus about how to make the Senate work and restore it as a legislative body,” he said.
Merkley’s discussions were welcomed by many fellow Democrats, as well as some who previously claimed to be wary of removing the filibuster.
“I just heard they started talking and I’m interested in listening to anything because the place isn’t working,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
In past years, Manchin was vocal about his support for the filibuster.
“I would hope that they would not ever, ever consider doing away with the filibuster, which is basically the whole premise of the Senate,” he told The Hill in an interview in 2019.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a traditional institutionalist, also suggested that if Biden won the election, he would be open to “urgent and effective action.”
“I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn,” Coons said in an interview with Politico. “I am gonna try really hard to find a path forward that doesn’t require removing what’s left of the structural guardrails, but if there’s a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action.”
“We’re going to have a real challenge being able to legislate,” Coons said. “If we’re going to legislate durable solutions … we have to be having conversations now about what’s the path forward towards a healthier, more functional Senate.”
Coons also previously defended the use of the filibuster. In 2017, Coons and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), along with 61 others, sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to “preserve existing rules, practices and traditions as they pertain to the right of members to engage in extended debate.”
“We are mindful of the unique role the Senate plays in the legislative process, and we are steadfastly committed to ensuring that this great American institution continues to serve as the world’s greatest deliberative body,” read the letter. “Therefore, we are asking you to join us in opposing any effort to curtail the existing rights and prerogatives of Senators to engage in full, robust, and extended debate as we consider legislation before this body in the future.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a former Democrat candidate for the presidency and potential vice president for Biden, also expressed her recent concern about the filibuster
“I’ve supported filibuster reform for a long time,” she said. “If the Republicans think that they are going to be able to hold up the actions that need to be taken in this country by using the filibuster then they’re wrong. We’re going to have to fight them.”
“If we have a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House and the Republicans are trying to use the filibuster in order to block what the American people want to see us do, then it will be time to change the filibuster,” she continued.
Some experts, however, warn that the removal of the filibuster would severely harm the nature and institution of the Senate.
“The Senate as a deliberative body would be effectively gone,” said Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. “You’d have two majoritarian institutions, because that’s the foundational difference between the House and the Senate. The House is majoritarian and the Senate is where almost every senator has equal rights on the floor of the Senate, which means that a minority view has a lot of power.”
If Democrats did come into power in the Senate, Bovard believes that they would not hesitate to eliminate the filibuster and pass “any bill that came out of Pelosi’s Demcorat House that the Senate hasn’t acted on.”
“You’re seeing massive expansion of abortion priorties, the Green New Deal, and every leftist liberal-social issue,” said Bovard. “When you get rid of the Senate filibuster, the Senate becomes the House, so anything that passed the Democrat House could pass a Democrat majority Senate.”
Removing the filibuster might allow for a Democratic agenda to successfully pass, but according to Bovard, it could actually hurt the Democrat Party if they fell out of power in the Senate.
“Democrats are coming out and saying that they want to take away the filibuster after they just filibustered the GOP police reform bill. They would lose that ability,” pointed out Bovard. “The filibuster forces consensus. It forces all of us to be given a seat at the table because you have to get 60 votes. You’re forced to work with each other.”
While more and more Democratic senators are considering the nuclear option, other senators are wary of removing the filibuster.
“I think that would be a huge mistake,” Sen. Angus King (Maine), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, told The Hill. “If we didn’t have the 60-vote rule today, the ACA would be gone. Medicaid would be severely compromised.”