After years of talk, fil­i­buster reform has final­ly become a reality.

Today, the Unit­ed States Sen­ate took a huge and momen­tous step towards becom­ing a more demo­c­ra­t­ic body. By a vote of fifty-two to forty-eight, sen­a­tors vot­ed to change Sen­ate rules to abol­ish fil­i­busters of exec­u­tive and judi­cial nom­i­na­tions, except Supreme Court nominations.

The move means that Repub­li­cans will no longer be able to pre­vent Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s nom­i­nees from receiv­ing a vote on the Sen­ate floor.

“It’s time to change the Sen­ate before this insti­tu­tion becomes obso­lete,” Reid declared before the vote, on the floor of the Sen­ate. Aware of what was about to hap­pen, near­ly every sen­a­tor was in the cham­ber, giv­ing Reid and his Repub­li­can coun­ter­part Mitch McConnell an unusu­al­ly large live audience.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple believe Con­gress is bro­ken. The Amer­i­can peo­ple believe the Sen­ate is bro­ken. And I agree,” Reid added.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma took to the podi­um inside the James M. Brady Press Brief­ing Room to praise the vote, say­ing the time had come for reform.

“I’m a for­mer sen­a­tor. So is my Vice Pres­i­dent. We both val­ue any Sen­ate’s duty to advise and con­sent. It’s impor­tant, and we take that very seri­ous­ly. But a few now refuse to treat that duty of advise and con­sent with the respect that it deserves.  It’s no longer used in a respon­si­ble way to gov­ern. It’s rather used as a reck­less and relent­less tool to grind all busi­ness to a halt. And that’s not what our Founders intend­ed, and it’s cer­tain­ly not what our coun­try needs right now.”

“Pub­lic ser­vice is not a game,” the Pres­i­dent added. “It is a priv­i­lege. And the con­se­quences of action or inac­tion are very real.”

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple deserve bet­ter than politi­cians who run for elec­tion telling them how ter­ri­ble gov­ern­ment is, and then devot­ing their time in elect­ed office to try­ing to make gov­ern­ment not work as often as possible.”

Angry Repub­li­cans promised that Democ­rats would “rue the day” they decid­ed to take a stand in favor of mak­ing the Sen­ate oper­ate more democratically.

“You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot soon­er than you think,” fumed Mitch McConnell, who only a few years ago, in con­cert with Bill Frist, was on the verge of engi­neer­ing a vote on a sim­i­lar rules change. McConnell has pre­vi­ous­ly said if Democ­rats vot­ed to lim­it the fil­i­buster, his cau­cus would do away with it entire­ly if they regained the major­i­ty. Of course, fur­ther lim­it­ing the fil­i­buster would actu­al­ly allow major­i­ty rule to pre­vail more of the time, which would be an improvement.

Repub­li­cans are cor­rect that Democ­rats have used the fil­i­buster to block nom­i­nees before, most recent­ly George W. Bush’s. But Democ­rats’ use of the fil­i­buster — and every pre­vi­ous Sen­ate’s use of the fil­i­buster — pales in com­par­i­son to Repub­li­cans’ use (or abuse) of it, as this chart from Sen­a­tor Har­ry Rei­d’s office shows:

Filibuster abuse in context

Repub­li­cans’ unprece­dent­ed obstruc­tion­ism has hurt the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Some­thing had to be done. Our found­ing fathers believed in major­i­ty rule. James Madi­son and Alexan­der Hamil­ton both wrote in The Fed­er­al­ist that major­i­ty rule was key to a func­tion­ing leg­isla­tive body. Major­i­ty rule goes hand in hand with minor­i­ty rights, of course. But we have the Con­sti­tu­tion to pro­tect minor­i­ty rights. The fil­i­buster is not in the Con­sti­tu­tion. It’s only in Sen­ate rules.

If Repub­li­cans want­ed to keep the fil­i­buster, they could have, by not abus­ing it. But they do not believe in the legit­i­ma­cy of Barack Oba­ma’s pres­i­den­cy and do not want him to be able to fill vacan­cies on our courts. Their posi­tion is ridicu­lous, out­ra­geous, and unac­cept­able. Today’s vote ensures they will no longer be able to pre­vent the Sen­ate from pro­vid­ing advice and con­sent when the Pres­i­dent nom­i­nates some­one to serve on his team or serve as a judge in our fed­er­al judiciary.

This is a great day for Amer­i­ca. We at NPI applaud this his­toric vote and thank our Pacif­ic North­west Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors for being a part of it. As a result of the courage of Sen­ate Democ­rats, the Sen­ate will begin to func­tion more like a real leg­isla­tive body again. More fil­i­buster reform is need­ed, but today’s rules change is so very wel­come. Kudos to Sen­a­tor Reid for putting it together.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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