WASHINGTON — Late Tuesday night, following the State of the Union Address, the Senate adjourned for the day.
That, in and of itself, isn’t news, but the ramifications of it were significant for senators like Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken who aimed to change the Senate’s rules on debate — especially targeted toward making filibustering senators actually speak on the floor and eliminating secret holds.
Their plan relied on using the “constitutional option” plan, devised by Walter Mondale, to change the rules this year. Mondale’s plan would have allowed rule changes by majority vote on the first legislative day of each Senate session, rather than by the 67-vote supermajority that’s normally necessary. And though the Senate gaveled in on Jan. 5, they hadn’t yet adjourned and thus were procedurally still on the same legislative day.
Until Tuesday, that is, when the Senate quietly adjourned and hopes for sweeping changes adjourned perhaps indefinitely in exchange for a much smaller packet of reforms and an agreement to not use Mondale’s 51-vote rules change plan now or in the near future.
The reason? “We don’t have the votes to do the constitutional option,” New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall told Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski.
Here’s the deal, unveiled Thursday:
- The tactic that allows for secret holds, having another senator make your hold for you, is out;
- No forcing the reading of an amendment that has been publicly released for at least 72 hours; and
- Legislation will be forthcoming to exempt about a third of nominations from the Senate confirmation process.
- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to not use the Mondale option, while McConnell said he’ll reduce filibusters on motions to proceed and Reid said he won’t use a procedural tactic to block some GOP amendments.
The remainder of the rules reforms proposals, including forcing senators to the floor to filibuster until they can filibuster no longer, were voted on Thursday. They all failed.
Still, proponents looked on the bright side of the deal, with Klobuchar taking to the Senate floor today to highlight the deal on removing secret holds.
“That’s all we’re talking about here when we talk about these sometimes complicated and convoluted rules changes,” she said. “It’s getting things out in the open. And obviously the first thing is to get rid of the secret hold and permanently end it.”
However, Klobuchar and her allies said the fight for public, Jimmy Stewart-style filibusters isn’t over.
“One of the things that I hope we reconsider as we go down the way is the idea that we could actually make people stand to filibuster, so that they’re in this chamber, they are discussing why it is so important they hold something up, whether it is a judge, whether it is the Assistant Secretary of Oceanic Affairs, whether it is a major bill, or a minor bill,” Klobuchar said.
“People should be able to hear the arguments and then make their own decisions. And, that way, if they have a good argument for filibustering something or if a group of senators has a good idea, the American people will say, ‘Oh, I can understand why this is happening.’ But if they are doing it for reasons that don’t make any sense to the people of this country, it is going to be seen for what it is and that’s slowing down the progress of this country at a time when there are so many major issues that we need to deal with in this chamber.”