Democrats may nix filibuster if they retake the Senate

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Michelle Budge, Deseret News

Democrats are within striking distance of winning 52 Senate seats in the midterms, which would give them enough votes to kill the filibuster and pass a raft of progressive legislation that stalled in the Senate after being passed by the U.S. House. 

“Many of the things we passed in the House, some have become the law of the land and some have not, because of the filibuster in the Senate,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a campaign video with Florida Senate candidate Val Demings. “If we could just win two more seats in the Senate and we can pull back the filibuster, (we could pass) all the things — the Equality Act, respect for the rights of the LGBTQ community, women’s right to choose.” 

Democratic candidates in all the closest races for Senate have said they would vote to eliminate or reform the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to move most legislation forward. Defenders of the Senate filibuster, including the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, say it promotes compromise, protects the minority and keeps the country from experiencing legislative whiplash when Congress changes hands from one party to another. 

Even though Democrats have a slim voting majority in the Senate, when taking into account Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote, they have been unable to change the filibuster because of two holdouts — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. 

But if the Democrats can extend their majority in the Senate by another two votes — which is within the realm of possibility given current match-ups — then they have a good chance of ending the filibuster, or at least neutralizing it by requiring a “talking” filibuster — meaning senators would have to take to the Senate floor to hold up a vote on an issue.   

Two Senate candidates — incumbent Sens. Mark Kelly in Arizona and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada — have said they would reform the filibuster in certain circumstances. Kelly agreed to vote to override the filibuster in order for senators to vote on changes to federal voting laws, while Masto said she favors restoring a “talking” filibuster. Kelly was once reluctant to share his position on the filibuster, but relented when pressured.

Kelly and Masto’s campaigns did not respond to requests for clarification on their positions on the filibuster. 

Several of the candidates in close races for the Senate have said they would vote to eliminate the filibuster outright, including: 

  • Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running against J.D. Vance for a Republican-held open seat. 

  • Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is defending his seat against former professional football star Herschel Walker. 
  • Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for a Republican-held open seat against Dr. Mehmet Oz. 
  • Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running against incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson. 
  • North Carolina nominee Cheri Beasley, who is running for a Republican-held open seat against Republican Congressman Ted Budd. 

During her travels to support various Senate candidates, Vice President Harris has spoken about how close Democrats are to eliminating the filibuster, if they can manage to win two more seats. 

Both parties have used the filibuster liberally in recent years when they’ve found themselves in the minority, and both Republican and Democratic party leaders have been under pressure to change filibuster rules when their party has held both congressional chambers. But while Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has defended the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — once a proponent of the filibuster — has pushed his caucus members to eliminate it. 

Donors to the Democratic Party have also pushed for the elimination of the filibuster, including labor unions, who have been frustrated that their legislative priority — “The Protecting Right to Organize (PRO) Act” — has not been able to pass the Senate after receiving support in the House. The PRO Act seeks to eliminate “Right to Work” laws — which give employees the right to reject union membership — in states like Utah, Arizona, and Georgia. 

If Democrats manage to add seats in the midterms, moderate senators may find themselves under pressure to not just eliminate the filibuster, but also to pass legislation that could anger some of their constituents at home. 

Suzanne Bates

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