‘Enough Is Enough’: Colorado Democrats Join Call To Limit Filibuster In U.S. Senate

U.S. Capitol in the early morning, Sept. 25, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The early morning U.S. Capitol awaits the arrival of the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Washington.

Bust the filibuster.

That’s the message about 100 House Democrats sent in a signed letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday.

“My constituents do not care about arcane Senate rules or procedures,” said Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora. “What they care about is ending gun violence. What they care about is providing quality affordable health care to their children. What they care about is the climate crisis.”

Crow admitted he’s not an expected champion for ending the filibuster, given the purple congressional district that he represents, but the second term lawmaker said he has had enough of seeing “bill after bill after bill” pass the Democratic-controlled House, only to die in the Senate.

How the filibuster works now

The most common filibuster these days in the Senate isn’t the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" version — where a senator talks for hours on end on the floor to stop a bill. These days, what you see is what’s called a procedural filibuster, involving cloture, a move used to end debate. It takes 60 senators to agree to end debate. It’s a number that can be hard to reach in these partisan times. 

“Enough is enough. We're not going to be quiet. We're not going to stop. We demand action, we demand results, and we will not be quiet,” Crow said. He added the use of the filibuster hasn’t led to a bipartisan result. 

Colorado Reps. Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter also signed onto the letter. Neguse highlighted bills around voting rights and gun safety that the House passed, but went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate last session and look to be stalled this year because the Democratic-controlled Senate cannot get past that 60-vote barrier.

“Our constituents are tired of excuses. They are tired of inaction. They expect the Senate to do its job,” Neguse said. “It's time for the Senate to get it together and take action and start legislating for the benefit of the American people.”

But the filibuster is a tool that has long been employed by both parties during their time in the minority to slow down or stop majority policies they object to. Senate Democrats utilized it during the Trump administration, and Republicans used it during the Obama administration.

When Republicans controlled the House in 2018, then-Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy and others called for Sen. Mitch McConnell to do away with the filibuster. While Democrats' call for ending the Senate filibuster hasn’t inflamed rank-and-file Republicans the way talk of expanding the Supreme Court has, GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn did tweet in September that the Senate filibuster needed to be protected.

Not all Democrats are on board

Both parties have also chipped away at the filibuster in the Senate. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid changed the rule so that lower level federal judicial nominees did not have to reach the 60-vote threshold. In 2017, then-Majority Leader McConnell, changed the rules again to allow Supreme Court nominations to pass with a simple majority.

Not everyone in the Senate Democratic caucus supports ending the filibuster. Much of the attention has focused on West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema, who have both come out in defense of the filibuster.

And they may get some support from Colorado’s newest senator.

Democrat John Hickenlooper, told a town hall that he’s not ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold just yet either, saying he wants to give “the traditional system a chance to succeed.”

But he didn’t close the door on adjustments to the filibuster. “There are a number of people that are talking about evolving into or back into the way it used to be, which is a talking filibuster, and allowing people to, you know, hold the floor, but they've got to keep talking,” he explained.

Sen. Michael Bennet told The Colorado Sun his views have a changed a little after watching how it’s been used over his 11 years in the Senate — generally not to a bipartisan end.

“I have seen Mitch McConnell use it to obstruct and obstruct and obstruct big things and little things,” Bennet said. “And I’m just not going to go through that again. We’ve got to keep our commitment to the American people.”

For Bennet, that means finding a way to overcome that obstruction, although he hasn’t offered details. “What that will look like in the end, I'm not sure,” he said.

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