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

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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Senate Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, dropping one component of their previous proposal in an effort to eliminate a procedural objection that House Republicans had used to oppose an earlier version of the bill.

The legislation to reauthorize the two-decade-old law died a slow, painful death last year because of House Republicans' objections to extending coverage to gays, illegal immigrants and Native American women.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered his Republican counterpart an ultimatum on Tuesday afternoon: come to a deal on filibuster reform soon or Democrats will do it on our own.

"I hope that within the next 24 to 36 hours, we can get something that we agree on," Reid told reporters in the Capitol. "If not we're going to move forward on what I think needs to be done. The caucus will support me on that."

The Democratic majority leader has vowed to weaken the filibuster but is deferring action while he continues weeks-long negotiations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a resolution. He's keeping his options open to change the rules with a 51-vote majority if a deal is not reached.

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The Obamacare repeal dream lives on.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT) and Lamar Alexander (TN) re-introduced legislation Tuesday that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

"This legislation we are introducing today is simple: it strikes the individual mandate, so we can instead find ways of providing people with health care, but in a manner that doesn't run counter to our constitutional framework of limited government," Hatch said in a statement.

Although the mandate faces implementation obstacles, proponents and opponents broadly agree that President Obama's re-election secured its survival. It has also withstood challenges in the Supreme Court and at the ballot box.

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