Sahil Kapur

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.

Articles by Sahil

For true believers, filibuster reform was about making it painful, if not impossible, for a Senate minority to obstruct governance by the majority. But it didn't come anywhere near that, leaving reformers deeply disappointed.

The final agreement reached by leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and passed overwhelmingly by the Senate Thursday evening did not weaken the filibuster. It essentially served to move uncontroversial Senate business more quickly. Democratic senators roundly backed it -- even the ones who were eager to end silent filibusters. Republicans didn't object either.

How did it all fall apart?

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Updated: 1:25 P.M.

After the Senate voted on a broad bipartisan basis Thursday night to make modest rules changes to streamline Senate business, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he reserves the right to make further rules changes -- but only through regular order.

"If these reforms do not do enough to end the gridlock here in Washington, we will consider doing more in the future," Reid said in a statement.

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Despite strong criticism from progressive supporters of reform, Senate Democrats rallied around the scaled-back filibuster deal negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday afternoon, broadly agreeing that the changes to the rules were at least a step in the right direction.

After a caucus meeting, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters that there's overwhelming support for the agreement among Democrats, despite the protestations of those who wanted more sweeping reforms.

"That's how this world works. People start aspiring at very high levels, then you get a negotiation, then you reach something called compromise," he said. "There's a very positive feeling among the people in our caucus. But the fact that the two leaders have been able to work it out together is great for the Senate."

Asked by TPM if the deal will make it easier to pass bills, Durbin briefly hesitated. "It requires good will," he said. "Good faith."

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in a statement late Thursday that he's disappointed with the modest, bipartisan filibuster agreement reached by Senate leaders. He signaled that senators will be determined to revisit the issue if the deal does not end Senate paralysis.

The statement from Merkley, the leading Senate champion of weakening the filibuster:

“The Senate spoke clearly today: the paralysis of the Senate is unacceptable.  Senators of both parties have recognized the need for change, and supported several steps to make the Senate more functional.

“These steps are modest, and don’t address the core problem of the secret, silent filibuster, but they do include some important elements, providing flexibility on the motion to proceed and speeding up the confirmation process on nominations.

“I would like to have gone further. In particular, I believe that if 41 Senators vote for more debate, then Senators should have the courage of their convictions to stand on the floor and make their case in front of the American people. Then the American people could decide if obstructing Senators are heroes or bums.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t take a bolder step to fix the Senate, but what is most important today is the deep determination of Senators to return the Senate to a more functional institution. If the modest steps taken today do not end the paralysis the Senate currently suffers, many Senators are determined to revisit this debate and explore stronger remedies.

“We have a responsibility to address the big issues facing our country. I’ll keep working with my colleagues to achieve that goal.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), a leading proponent of the "talking filibuster" proposal that was sidelined in the bipartisan deal, said late Thursday that he will nevertheless support the agreement.

Udall's statement:

"For more than three years, I've been committed to changing the Senate rules so that Congress can effectively respond to the needs of the country. The Constitution has been the catalyst for reforming the current filibuster and that marks a breakthrough.

"The agreement that's been struck is a combination of rules and behavioral changes, and not as strong what many of us have been advocating. However, it alters the way we deal with nominations, conference committees and motions to proceed -- all things I've been working toward. The leaders have also agreed to make filibusters more transparent and bring objectors to the chamber for actual debate. I am supporting their efforts to get a bipartisan agreement today, and moving forward will continue to fight for the stronger filibuster reforms my colleagues and I believe will make the Senate a more accountable institution.

"We've come a long way toward reforming the Senate and the filibuster in the last three years. We've made progress, but I'm not done fighting to change the way we do business. It's true what my Uncle Mo used to say: 'Reform is not for the short-winded.'"

The final details of the deal struck by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which make only minor changes to the filibuster rules in the Senate, show why leading reformers are so disappointed in the outcome.

The agreement, which was finalized Thursday morning, is far more scaled back than what reformers like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) wanted. It does not require filibustering senators to speak on the floor, nor does it shift the burden from a governing majority to an obstructing minority. But it makes changes aimed at speeding up less controversial Senate business.

The language of the two-part rules change package, provided to TPM by Reid's office, can be read below.

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Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) told TPM on Thursday afternoon that he will vote for the filibuster deal negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

"The rules change doesn't really do a lot," Isakson told TPM. "It certainly preserves the 60-vote threshold, preserves the blue slip procedure. It preserves the filibuster. And that's important heritage for the Senate."

He added: "I think the nuclear option would have been disastrous for the Senate. If we can avoid the nuclear option that's what we ought to do."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are nearing a bipartisan deal to enact minor changes to the filibuster, two sources familiar with the negotiations tell TPM.

The deal, which is not yet final, makes very modest changes. It would permit the majority to bypass a filibuster on the motion to proceed to debate -- if a group of senators on each side agree or if there's a guarantee that both sides will get to offer amendments, the sources said Wednesday evening.

It also includes an expedited process for some nominations and lowers the number of cloture motions required to go to conference with the House.

The emerging agreement reflects the plan that Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) put forth to avoid further-reaching filibuster reform that proponents wanted. But it tweaks some aspects to address Democrats' concerns that it would empower the minority to add poison pills to legislation.

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In a series of moves Wednesday that effectively isolate House Republicans, a bipartisan group of senators and House Democrats unveiled companion bills to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The two bills, a House version and a Senate version, are identical in re-authorizing the domestic violence legislation and in expanding coverage to protect gays, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. They were simultaneously unveiled Wednesday in the House and Senate during back-to-back press conferences by House Democrats and the Senate group.

The Senate Republicans flanking Democrats were Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) -- all VAWA co-sponsors.

"This is not a partisan issue," said Collins. "It cannot be a partisan issue."

"As you can see from the representation here," said Crapo, "it's on a bipartisan basis that we have support for this in the Senate."

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Senate Democrats have the 51 votes necessary to weaken the filibuster, the top two Democrats declared unequivocally on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he's continuing discussions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a bipartisan resolution. But when asked if he has the 51 votes for filibuster reform via the constitutional option if that fails, he didn't mince words.

"Yes," Reid said.

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