U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the legislative filibuster, the feature of the Senate that requires 60 senators to agree before the Senate can end debate and vote on a bill, ensuring that the minority party is represented in legislation. Thune expressed his hope that all Senate Democrats will recommit themselves to preserving this fundamental feature of the Senate.
Excerpt of Thune’s remarks:
“Mr. President, there’s been a lot of talk about the legislative filibuster here in the Senate over the last few days.
“As we started the new Congress evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the Republican leader had proposed that the Democrat leader include a commitment to preserving the legislative filibuster in the power-sharing agreement the leaders have been working out.
“This should have been easy.
“Less than four years ago, with a Republican president in the White House and Republicans in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group of 61 senators affirmed their support for retaining the legislative filibuster, stating, quote, “we are united in our determination to preserve the ability of Members to engage in extended debate when bills are on the Senate floor.”
“Twenty-six current Democrat senators – a majority of the current Democrat caucus – signed that defense of the legislative filibuster when they were in the Senate minority.
“It’s disappointing that the Democrat leader failed to express his support for this essential Senate rule.
“Nevertheless, thanks to the recent commitment from two Senate Democrats to oppose any attempt to eliminate the filibuster – a commitment which secures this key protection for minority rights – Leader McConnell is now moving forward without a statement from the Democrat leader.
“But it’s worth taking a moment to reiterate why the legislative filibuster is so important.
“The legislative filibuster, of course, is essentially the requirement that 60 senators agree before the Senate can end debate and vote on a bill.
“In other words, you need 60 percent of the Senate to agree before you can pass a bill.
“This usually means that you need the support of at least some members of the other party before you can pass legislation.
“Now, the party in power doesn’t always enjoy that rule.
“All of us would like the opportunity to pass exactly the legislation we want.
“But most of us recognize that it’s a good requirement.
“The legislative filibuster ensures that the minority is represented in legislation.
“This would be important even if elections tended to break 60-40 or 70-30 in favor of one party or another.
“All Americans, whether or not they’re in the majority, deserve to be represented.
“But it’s particularly important when you consider that our country is pretty evenly split down the middle.
“While the advantage sometimes goes to Democrats and sometimes to Republicans, the truth is that our country is pretty evenly split.
“Which means any attempt to disenfranchise the minority party means disenfranchising half the country. Now, of course the party in power generally gets to accomplish more than the minority party – and that’s appropriate.
“The country may be fairly evenly divided, but sometimes it wants to move more toward one side or the other.
“What is not appropriate is to eliminate meaningful minority representation – which would be the consequence of eliminating the legislative filibuster.
“Our Founders recognized the importance of putting safeguards in place to ensure that majorities wouldn’t curtail or eliminate minority rights.
“That’s why the Founders created the Senate.
“They made the Senate smaller and senators’ terms of office longer, with the intention of creating a more stable, more thoughtful, and more deliberative legislative body to check ill-considered or intemperate legislation or attempts to curtail minority rights.
“And as time has gone on, the legislative filibuster is the Senate rule that has had perhaps the greatest impact in preserving the Founders’ vision of the Senate.
“Thanks to the filibuster, it’s often harder to get legislation through the Senate than through the House.
“It requires more thought, more debate, and greater consensus.
“In other words – exactly what the Founders were looking for.
“Mr. President, I’m grateful to my Democrat colleagues who have spoken up about their commitment to preserving the legislative filibuster.
“Republicans were committed to protecting this vital safeguard of minority rights when we were in the majority – despite the then-president’s calls to eliminate it – and I appreciate that a number of my Democrat colleagues share that commitment.
“And I’m particularly grateful to the senator from West Virginia and the senator from Arizona for their uncompromising defense of minority rights and the institution of the Senate in recent days.
“Again, however, I’m disappointed that the Democrat leader chose not to express his support for this essential Senate rule.
“I’d point out that when Democrats were in the minority in the Senate, they made frequent use of the legislative filibuster.
“Mr. President, I hope that the commitment to the legislative filibuster expressed by President Biden and a number of Senate Democrats means the end of any talk of eliminating the filibuster.
“No matter how appealing it might be in the moment, destroying this long-standing protection for minority rights would be a grave error that both parties would live to regret.
“I hope all Senate Democrats will recommit themselves to preserving this fundamental feature of the Senate – and to compromise.
“We’ve got work to do.”