The filibuster rule ‘needs to go’

It’s too soon to say with confidence what will happen in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race this year, and with incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow retiring in a battleground state, a competitive race seems inevitable. Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin threw her hat in the ring earlier this week, and by all accounts, she’s positioned to be a leading contender.

It was against this backdrop that MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asked the congresswoman a good question about an issue that’s often overlooked: “Would you vote in the Senate to get rid of that current 60-vote filibuster rule?” Slotkin responded:

“Yeah, I think the filibuster, as it is now being used, needs to go. And I think that there’s, I’ve already said certainly on issues of democracy — like changing and affecting our democracy, things like voting rights — we have to be able to have an up-or-down vote. … The idea that a couple, a handful of senators can just stop bills from even coming to the floor and getting an up-or-down vote, I just don’t think that makes sense.”

The Michigan Democrat, currently in her third term in the U.S. House, added that during her congressional tenure, she’s seen “so many bipartisan bills, things that have passed with both Democratic and Republican support, that don’t even get an up-or-down vote in the Senate because of those rules.”

Positions like these might not seem especially notable anymore. In fact, Slotkin’s comments probably sounded familiar because so many other Democrats have said similar things.

But it’s worth emphasizing that the shift in Democratic politics in support for Senate reform is a relatively recent thing.

Nearly six years ago, most of the Senate Democratic conference signed a joint, bipartisan statement in support of preserving the legislative filibuster for the indefinite future. At the time, there were some in the party who believed the existing rule, to borrow Slotkin’s phrase, “needs to go,” but it was a relatively fringe position in Democratic politics.

Not anymore. Several prominent Democratic senators who signed onto the 2017 joint statement — including Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Mark Warner of Virginia — have since reevaluated their positions and called for institutional reforms.

In the last Congress, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin added his voice to reform efforts, arguing on the chamber floor that the filibuster was “making a mockery of American democracy.” Around the same time, President Joe Biden balked at completely scrapping the existing rules, but voiced support for at least some institutional changes.

“It’s getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning,” Biden said two years ago this month.

To be sure, Americans shouldn’t expect major changes anytime soon: The Senate Democratic conference has 51 members, and some of them remain fully committed to the status quo. What’s more, with a Republican-led House, there wouldn’t be any practical point to dramatic overhaul, at least in the short term.

But Slotkin’s on-air comments served as a timely reminder: Support for reforming the Senate among Democratic members and candidates has clearly gone mainstream.

This post is a revises our related earlier coverage.

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