Dick Durbin’s disturbing filibuster talk

The major fight within the U.S. Senate isn’t on the upcoming impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump but the future of the filibuster. Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin told NBC’s Meet the Press he didn’t believe any power-sharing agreement was possible without changes to filibuster rules.

[W]hat Chuck Schumer put on the table was word for word the bipartisan agreement the last time we had a 50-50 Senate. And Senator McConnell came back and said, “No, I want absolute protection, the filibuster will not be touched.” Well, that’s a non-starter, because if we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day. So here’s the bottom line: if we are going to work in a bipartisan fashion, let’s pass the organizing resolution without the extra McConnell language. Let’s get down to business, roll up our sleeves and pass this rescue package that deals with getting these vaccines out across America as quickly as possible, giving help to people who are unemployed and giving businesses a helping hand. We want to get the economy back on its feet, we want to get kids back in school. Let’s do that as a priority on a bipartisan basis.

Gimme a break.

The 2001 rules didn’t mention the filibuster because polarization levels remained low, completely different from what they are now (worth noting then-Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, who agreed to the power-sharing agreement, floated the “nuclear option” plan in 2005. Just shows how tenuous low polarization can be.). It was Democrats who enacted the so-called “nuclear option” in 2013 with Republicans doing the same in 2017. McConnell’s desire for a “return to normalcy” possibly comes too late after seven years of “nuclear option.”

Yet, Durbin’s claims that the filibuster would be used for everything seem rather hyperbolic. The Senate still operates even though filibuster use is up since 2013. It is highly doubtful senators would bother filibustering any so-called ‘rescue packages’ if Durbin is serious about the focus on helping the unemployed and businesses (I’m not holding my breath.). The same could be said about any of President Joe Biden’s nominations for cabinet posts. The most likely filibuster would be on any new terrorism bill and there should be questions about any new legislation given the tenor on Capitol Hill to put everyone from fascists to libertarians on a list if you believe John Brennan.

Durbin still has plenty of convincing to do within his party. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is against the idea, and “Independent” Senator Angus King appears hesitant to invoke the “nuclear option.” California Senator Dianne Feinstein, in a shocking development, doesn’t want to change the rules either. The 50-50 split in the Senate won’t see the “nuclear option” go through unless Durbin gets all Democrats and “Independents” on board and Vice President Kamala Harris breaks the tie.

It may be a non-starter in Durbin’s book but the filibuster is an important part of the U.S. Senate. The fact the Senate sees it as some sort of troublesome business unless it helps their own agenda is a disappointing development given the partisanship in Washington.

Pandora’s box can thankfully be closed albeit temporarily if Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell refuses to yield on the filibuster issue. The rules should not have been changed in the first place and if Democrats are serious about ‘unity’ during the Biden Administration then they need to back down. The “nuclear option” will not help anyone and will only encourage a more partisan divide in a chamber poisoned too much by partisanship.

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