Jeff Merkley Escalates Push For Filibuster Reform

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The Senate’s leading supporter of filibuster reform is back at it, declaring in an email to supporters late Wednesday that the modest rules changes enacted this January has “failed” and that real reform is urgently needed.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is teaming up with the liberal advocacy group Democracy For America to build public awareness of filibuster abuse and court supporters for reform.

“It’s now clear the experiment has failed. The Senate remains broken,” Merkley wrote to supporters. “Senate Republicans continue to force delays — even on bills with overwhelming public support, and even on nominees widely considered well-qualified.”

“Please join me and Democracy for America – and put yourself on record at FixTheFilibuster.com: We can’t wait any longer to make the Senate work.”Merkley’s plan, known as the “talking filibuster,” would force obstructing senators to occupy the floor and speak until one side gives in. By contrast, the bipartisan rules change enacted in January eliminated some hurdles in advancing legislation and nominees but fully protected the 60-vote threshold for moving Senate

During filibuster reform deliberations, Merkley clashed with his own leadership for tactics he used in seeking to whip Democrats to support his plan. His spokesman Jamal Raad tells TPM the senator is “has continued the conversation over rules with his colleagues.”

Senate Democrats have the option to weaken the filibuster at any time with 51 votes, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has repeatedly threatened to use that “nuclear option” if Republicans don’t stop blocking presidential nominees. Hardly any Democrats have publicly ruled out using that option to fix the Senate. But behind the scenes, despite anger at the GOP now, there is concern that weakening the filibuster could come back to haunt them when Republicans return to power and, for instance, seek to weaken abortion rights.

Merkley insists he’d be just as strong a supporter of his plan if he were in the minority, arguing that the point of the filibuster is to debate, not to obstruct in the dark.

“The Senate is badly broken, and it’s not going to get better by wishful thinking or handshake deals,” he wrote in his email to supporters. “We can change this — but only if the American people insist on a Senate that works.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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