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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the Democrats’ latest threat to abolish the legislative filibuster. Thune noted that abolishing the filibuster would fundamentally change the character of the Senate and remove one of the most significant protections of minority party rights in our system of government.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, I had hoped we had put the idea of changing the Senate filibuster rule to bed when two members of the Democrat Party in the Senate pledged to oppose any attempt to abolish the filibuster.
“But unfortunately the Democrat leader has revived this idea and has said that he plans to hold a vote on changing the filibuster rule on or before January 17.
“Mr. President, Democrats have offered up a lot of bad ideas over the past year.
“A lot of bad ideas.
“But it’s possible that abolishing the filibuster is the worst.
“Abolishing the filibuster would mean fundamentally changing the character of the Senate – and removing one of the most significant protections for minority rights in our system of government.
“Mr. President, our Founders recognized that it wasn’t just kings who could be tyrants.
“They knew majorities could be tyrants too, and that a majority – if unchecked – could trample the rights of the minority.
“And so the Founders combined majority rule with both representation and constitutional protections for the minority.
“They established safeguards – checks and balances – throughout our government to keep the government in check and ensure that the rights of the minority were protected.
“And one of those safeguards was the Senate.
“In the House of Representatives, majority rule is emphasized.
“And the Founders could have left it at that.
“They could have stuck with a single legislative body.
“But they didn’t.
“Because they were worried about the possibility of tyrannical majorities in the House endangering the rights of the minority.
“The author of Federalist 62 notes: ‘A senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government. It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy … Secondly. The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.’
“And so the Founders created the Senate as a check on the House of Representatives.
“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 and attempts to curtail minority rights.
“And as time has gone on, the legislative filibuster has become perhaps the key way the Senate protects minority rights.
“The filibuster ensures that the minority party – and the Americans it represents – has a voice in the Senate.
“It forces compromise. It forces bipartisanship. It encourages a greater level of stability and predictability.
“Even in the rare case when a majority party has a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the filibuster still forces the majority party to take into account the views of its more moderate or middle-of-the-road members, thus ensuring that more Americans are represented in legislation.
“Removing the filibuster would erase this protection and allow the majority – including an incredibly narrow or merely technical majority, as Democrats have now – to trample minority rights.
“In the words of one former senator, ‘We should make no mistake. … It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party … Folks who want to see this change want to eliminate one of the procedural mechanisms designed for the express purpose of guaranteeing individual rights, and they also have a consequence, and would undermine the protections of a minority point of view in the heat of majority excess.’
“That former senator of course was Joe Biden – one of the many Democrats who has opposed abolishing the filibuster.
“Because, of course, Democrats were singing a different tune on the filibuster just a couple of years ago.
“When President Trump urged Republican senators to abolish the legislative filibuster – dozens of times – Democrats were strongly opposed.
“In 2017, 32 Democrat senators – including now-Vice President Harris and a majority of the current Democrat caucus – signed a letter urging that the legislative filibuster be preserved.
“And Republicans agreed and refused to abolish the legislative filibuster despite the former president’s repeated urging.
“It’s not because we didn’t have a lot of legislation we wanted to pass.
“We did. And we knew that abolishing the filibuster would make it a whole lot easier to advance our agenda.
“But we also knew that the Senate wasn’t designed to let a slim majority of senators push through whatever agenda it wanted – and that abolishing the legislative filibuster could quickly come back to haunt us when we were in the minority again.
“And so we resisted the president’s urging and preserved the legislative filibuster.
“Now, however, many Democrats who not only supported but actively and repeatedly used the filibuster during the previous administration to block major coronavirus relief legislation and police reform legislation have apparently decided that rules protecting the minority should only apply … when Democrats are in the minority.
“Apparently Democrat minorities deserve representation, but Republican minorities do not.
“It’s a particularly outrageous position when you consider the fact that right now Democrats have nothing more than a technical majority in the Senate.
“The Senate is currently divided 50-50.
“The only reason that Democrats have a deciding vote in the Senate is because the vice president is a Democrat.
“That’s hardly the kind of majority that should make Democrats feel free to steamroll minority rights.
“But let me put aside the question of minority rights and Democrats’ hypocrisy on this issue for a moment.
“I want to talk about two things.
“One, my Democrat colleagues should be very sure that abolishing – or amending – the filibuster will come back to haunt them.
“That’s simply the way of things.
“You only have to look back at Democrats’ decision to abolish the filibuster for judicial nominees.
“I think I can speak for most of my Democrat colleagues when I say that it came back to haunt them – and probably sooner than they expected.
“More than one Democrat, faced with President Trump’s judicial nominees and his Supreme Court appointments, openly regretted their party’s having abolished the judicial filibuster.
“I would urge my Democrat colleagues to remember that.
“And I would urge them to remember that if they regret having abolished the judicial filibuster, they are likely to regret abolishing the legislative filibuster even more.
“I’d also urge them to remember that they barely have a majority now – and that even the strongest majorities eventually end up back in the minority.
“Sooner or later, abolishing or amending the legislative filibuster will come back to haunt them.
“I get that my Democrat colleagues want to accomplish big things.
“Well, I’d just like to remind them that it’s possible to accomplish big things in a bipartisan fashion.
“I know, because we did it at the Commerce Committee when I was committee chair.
“But it does require a real willingness to compromise – and an acceptance of the fact that the Senate is not designed to let a narrow majority unilaterally impose its will.
“Finally, Mr. President, I urge my Democrat colleagues to think about what abolishing the filibuster would mean for ordinary Americans.
“Of course it would mean decreased representation for any American whose party was in the minority.
“But it would also mean highly unstable government policy (and a resulting lack of confidence in government) as well as a sharp increase in partisanship – which I venture to say is not what we need right now.
“Mr. President, in his discussion of the importance of the Senate as a stabilizing body, the author of Federalist 62 notes, ‘[A] continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule of prudence and every prospect of success. … In the first place, it forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, and all the advantages connected with national character. ... The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?’
“Mr. President, abolish the filibuster, and we will end up in exactly the situation the author of Federalist 62 feared – with an inconsistent and ever-changing set of laws.
“An all-Democrat government will quickly push through whatever measures it judges to be the best – and an all-Republican government when it takes power will do the same.
“And again, neither party should be so arrogant as to think that the opposing party will never again gain control of the government.
“The government was in unified Republican hands just three years ago.
“Today it is – narrowly – in Democrat hands.
“And it will continue to shift.
“Abolish the filibuster, and policy will shift sharply with it.
“Social policy – on abortion, religious freedom, and other issues.
“The list goes on.
“In short, to quote Federalist 62, the laws would ‘undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.’
“And such incessant changes of national policy would unquestionably heighten partisanship in this country.
“As the laws became more extreme, the tension between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, would only heighten.
“Here in Congress, yes, but most importantly throughout the country, among ordinary Americans.
“Our government would no longer be perceived as government of the people and for the people.
“It would now be perceived as government of and for Democratic Americans or Republican Americans, depending on the party in power.
“Democrats may think that some of the bills they’re advancing will serve the American people.
“Well, something else that will serve the American people is moderation and predictability in our government.
“And that is something we will lose if we turn the Senate into the House of Representatives and abolish protection for minority rights.
“Mr. President, when Republicans were repeatedly faced with the prospect of abolishing the legislative filibuster during the previous administration, we said “no.”
“Not because there wasn’t important legislation we wanted to pass, but because we knew that the best thing for our country – and for our future representation in the Senate – was to preserve this essential protection for the minority.
“I urge my Democrat colleagues to think of their future and our country and make the same decision.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”