There are 44 standing rules in the Senate, but only one seems to get all of the attention: the legislative filibuster. For Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), it's suddenly become quite a nuisance. Instead of being able to ram every outrageous idea on their wish list through Congress and on to Joe Biden's desk, they've had to confront a sobering reality -- that's not how the U.S. Senate works.
The founders didn't want two Houses of Representatives. They wanted a body that would deliberate, pursue consensus, and act as the lower chamber's accountability party. One of the ways they did that was by giving the minority party a voice -- something that's desperately needed now in a country as divided as ours. Under the original rules of the Senate, small groups of members could grind the debate to a halt by "filibustering." In those situations, the majority had a choice: they could "take heed" of the other side's complaints or let their legislation die. Usually, as USA Today's James Robbins explains, "it was easier just to make a deal." In the old days, it took two-thirds of the Senate to end debate and move to a vote. In 1975, that number was lowered to 60. That means, with the exception of a handful of spending bills, today's Democrats would have to find nine more votes than they have to pass anything on their agenda.
That's a frustrating proposition for whoever is in the majority, but especially for far-Left Democrats. For starters, their policies are too radical to get the 60-vote support any legislation requires. Hitting that number would mean toning down their extremism. And almost no Democrat, these days, is the slightest bit interested in that. Back when she was in the minority, Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) used to say, "If you don't have 60 votes yet... it just means you have to work harder." Now that she's in the majority, she's not interested in working harder or finding consensus. She, like almost every other Democrat, wants to change the rules so that there's no debate, no working together, no listening to the other side. In other words, forget unity. Just give us everything we want.
The smart men who built this country understood the nature of power. They knew that if one party got its hands on both chambers and the White House, the temptation to ignore half of the country would be great. So they decided not to run the Senate like the House. They wanted conversation, give-and-take, and forced (if need be) cooperation. As Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in his incredible speech on the Senate floor, the founders wanted to "ensure that federal laws in our big diverse country earned broad enough buy-in to receive the lasting consent of the government."
Now, instead of working to find middle ground, Democrats want to blow up the system entirely and let a simple majority rule. It's incredible, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) pointed out on "Washington Watch." Under Donald Trump, Democrats used the filibuster more than any party in history -- and now, two months later, they've decided it's "overused," "racist," and needs to be abolished? So it wasn't racist when the Democrats filibustered four months ago and now, magically, it is? "That is absolutely absurd," Lankford argued. "This is not a relic of racism. This is a stabilizing part of our government where we have dialog for the majority to listen to the minority -- no matter who's a majority or minority -- and then to be able to walk for common ground. So this is a good thing, not a racist and evil thing."
If this had been on the ballot, McConnell said, "Does anyone really believe the American people were voting for an entirely new system of government by electing Joe Biden to the White House and a 50/50 Senate?" Back in 2017, 33 Democrats and two dozen Republicans wrote a letter to Chuck Schumer and to Mitch McConnell arguing that there shouldn't be any changes to the filibuster. Donald Trump and other Republicans were tempted to do away with it -- just like Democrats are now -- but McConnell resisted. These 60 or so senators backed him up, insisted that we need to protect the rights of the minority voice. Now, Lankford pointed out, "all but two of those Democrat senators have all said, 'No, we just need to [kill] it.'"
What's the difference between then and now? Democratic control.
"The uniqueness about the filibuster is this forces is the one place in government where all sides have to be heard. That is a benefit to us, not a detriment to us. It doesn't happen in the Supreme Court or in the White House or in the House of Representatives. It only happens in the Senate, where we make sure that every single bill, every single issue, all voices are heard, the debate is finished, and then you move forward towards the common ground. We've got a lot of common ground as Americans. But if you get a situation where it's a simple straight majority on everything, then... we'll have rapid transitions in our nation where we're used to having stability in our nation."