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It Is a Terrible Idea for Republicans to Weaken the Legislative Filibuster

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

I am a former Senate staffer and one who treasures the history and traditions of the Senate. I am deeply concerned about a procedural trick Senate Republicans are about to deploy to expedite the passage of President Donald J. Trump’s nominees to the courts and executive branch. Republicans are on the verge of sabotaging the conservative agenda moving forward, because any chipping away at the legislative filibuster will make it easier for Democratic Socialists to ram through gun control, a trillion-dollar Green New Deal and socialized medicine in the not too distant future.  


Anybody who believes that Republicans will control the White House and Senate for the next generation are the same as those who are naïve enough to believe that Jussie Smollett was the victim of a hate crime.

James Wallner, former Senate Steering Committee Executive Director and expert on Senate procedure, has raised the alarm on the website Legislative Procedure where he writes “in 2017, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged not to abolish the legislative filibuster. He did so to persuade his fellow Republicans to back his plan to use the nuclear option to confirm Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court over Democrats’ objections. Today, McConnell once again wants his colleagues to go nuclear. However, this time his stated goal is to pass a resolution, authored by Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and James Lankford, R-Okla., that would speed up the confirmation process by changing the Standing Rules of the Senate. Yet using the nuclear option to force the Blunt-Lankford resolution through the Senate over Democrats’ objections will require McConnell to violate his two-year-old pledge not to abolish the legislative filibuster.”   If successful, this gambit will set the table for a complete abolition of the filibuster in the future.

The filibuster is an important tool to preserve the rights of members to engage in extended debate.  It also gives senators leverage to offer amendments on bills.   Abolition would be a big mistake and would procedurally convert the Senate into a smaller version of the House.


Wallner points out that there are now two types of filibusters, because of former Sen. Harry Reid’s nuclear option in 2013 that abolished the filibuster on all nominations with the exception of nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.  One should see that as an example of Democrats shooting themselves in the foot, because they started a process that allowed President Trump to load up the courts and his administration with nominees that may not have made it through the process if it took 60 votes to shut down debate on nominations.  Many Senate Democrats lamented that partisan exercise, because they had banked that they would be dealing with President Hillary Clinton, not Trump.  

 Now Republicans, for short term gain, appear to be falling into the same trap.

Republicans eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations on Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017.  It made some sense to make the Reid precedent consistent for all nominations, yet it has proven to be a precedent for an eventual abolition of the filibuster on legislation and nominations. One only needs to look at the Democrats’ hard lurch to the left to understand why it would be dangerous to make it easier to pass socialist legislation in the Senate.

Republicans are angry that Democrats are using the rule that governs the filibuster to extend debate on all nominations. They want to shut that process down by passing a resolution that will expedite nominations. The problem is that the resolution is on the legislative, not executive, calendar, therefore this is a precedent that will lead to the eventual elimination of the legislative filibuster.


As great as the past few years have been for conservatism, think back to 2008 when the filibuster prevented a far more destructive version of Obamacare to pass.  Also, gun control would have sailed through the Senate, but for a filibuster by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that slowed down the process and allowed the American people to have a say.  There is example after example of why the filibuster has provided a needed break on Congress’s insatiable appetite to pass bad legislation.

It is quite possible that a Democrat may sneak into the White House in 2020 and Senator Chuck Schumer will run the Senate – under those circumstances, conservatives would feel like idiots if they had set the table by abolishing the filibuster. No filibuster would lead to a conveyor belt of liberal bills sailing through the House and Senate.  Just look how easy it has been for Democrats in the House to run through terrible legislation and then imagine a Schumer controlled Senate doing the same thing.

The legislative filibuster serves an important purpose for those who favor limited government and a slow methodical approach to passing legislation. If Republicans nuke the filibuster today, they can’t complain in two years when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) vision of a socialist utopian Green New Deal is imposed on the American people.


Brian Darling is former staffer for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and author of two papers for The Heritage Foundation on the filibuster, including The Filibuster Protects the Rights of All Senators and the American People.

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