Dems Double Down on Calls to End Filibuster if They Keep Control of Senate 

Phil Pasquini /
Phil Pasquini /

Every few months, Democrats reemerge to remind Americans that they have not forgotten about one of their pet projects – ending the filibuster. 

A filibuster is a tactic to delay or block legislative action by extending debate on a proposed bill, preventing a final vote. When a bill reaches the Senate floor, senators can engage in a filibuster by delaying the final vote.  

Unlike the past, where senators had to hold the floor physically and speak, today’s filibusters are often “virtual,” with senators signaling their intent to filibuster, keeping the bill stuck until a supermajority of 60 out of 100 senators votes to invoke cloture and end the debate. If cloture fails, the filibuster continues, effectively blocking the bill from proceeding to a vote.  

Historically, filibusters were long, rambling speeches that lasted hours. The longest filibuster in U.S. history lasted 24 hours and 19 minutes when then-Democrat Strom Thurmond spoke against the Civil Rights Act in 1957. His speech was part of a broader 75-day Democratic filibuster to oppose the legislation. 

In the modern U.S. Senate, lawmakers no longer need to engage in lengthy speeches. Instead, they can signal their intent to filibuster, and the bill remains stuck until a supermajority of 60 out of 100 senators votes to end the debate through a cloture process.  

Senators use several common tactics to obstruct legislation, such as requesting roll-call votes, lengthy quorum calls, or procedural motions to consume time and prevent the Senate from moving forward with the bill. They may delay votes on specific bills to gain leverage or negotiate changes. Behind-the-scenes negotiations are standard, as senators work privately to find common ground or make amendments to address concerns and build support.  

Public messaging and advocacy through media appearances, press releases, and social media are also employed to communicate their stance on legislation and apply public pressure, which can influence other senators and affect the bill’s outcome.  

Additionally, proposing amendments can lead to further debate and delay while attaching unrelated provisions called riders to bills creates additional points of contention. Senators can also stall bills by preventing them from advancing out of committees. 

Recently, calls to reform or eliminate the filibuster have intensified, particularly among those on the left who see the process as a way to stop them from passing their laundry list of pet projects. Critics argue that it hampers democracy by allowing a minority to thwart the majority’s will, while supporters contend that it ensures deliberation and prevents hasty decisions. 

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who previously served as a top spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and chief of staff of the Senate Republican Conference, suggested that if Senate Democrats retain their majority, there will likely be another attempt to override the long-established filibuster, especially since Senators Manchin or Sinema, both supporters of the process, will not be present to prevent it. 

Many blamed Manchin and Sinema for obstructing efforts to reform the filibuster, with Manchin noting that it would be the “saddest day in the history” of the nation if it were eliminated. He went on to add that eliminating the filibuster means “eliminating democracy.” 

In 2022, Manchin and Sinema joined ranks with Senate Republicans to vote against reforms that would have allowed a simple majority to decide the fate of a bill rather than a supermajority. Those reforms would have limited the time to debate the bill before moving it on to a vote. It would also have reinstituted the talking filibuster, where lawmakers would be required to stay on the Senate floor and speak at length without pausing. 

However, a veteran Democratic aide suggested that other caucus members were also skeptical of the changes but used these two lawmakers as a shield to hide their desire to leave the filibuster intact. 

Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, suggests that Republicans are likely to gain the Senate majority, which would allow them to enjoy the same advantages that any rule changes might currently afford the Democratic majority. He noted that Democrats can change the filibuster rule only to lose their majority in the next midterm or subsequent presidential election. 

If that happens, Republicans would be permitted to pass legislation unhindered by Democrats.  

The filibuster is the Hail Mary of vote-delaying tactics and one of the last of the checks and balances Republicans can use to stop the insanity of the Democratic agenda. There’s a reason progressives hate the filibuster, but if they end it, they will hate a Republican majority even more.