As the House of Representatives prepares to take up several gun control measures, including a bill that would require background checks to be conducted on most private firearm transfers, activists and Democratic officials are pressing yet again for the Senate to scrap the legislative filibuster, which requires most bills to get 60 votes for approval instead of a simple majority.
The Washington Post is reporting that, at the moment, most of the pressure is on President Joe Biden to throw his weight behind the move, which would require the action of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as well as the support of every Democrat senator.
Liberals have long pushed for sweeping changes like expanding the Supreme Court, ending the electoral college and banning gerrymandering. But as Biden faces a critical stretch of his presidency, even moderate Democrats are urging more immediate changes – particularly rewriting the filibuster, so that at the very least fewer bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
Democrats increasingly worry that popular pieces of Biden’s agenda will hit a wall in the Senate, including his plans for climate change, immigration, gun control, voting rights and LGBT protections. Failing to enact them, they fear, could be a political disaster for Democrats as well as a substantive one.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a centrist, said Wednesday she wants to “get rid of the filibuster,” her toughest comments to date on the matter. By Thursday, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., announced on via social media that she, too, now wants to abolish the filibuster, because “the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress.”
That may be one of the dumbest statements to ever come out of the U.S. Capitol, which is saying a lot. The filibuster is there for a simple reason; the Senate is supposed be the more deliberative of the two legislative chambers. Those involved in writing the Constitution made that fact crystal clear at the time in the years after the Constitution was ratified.
Writing to Thomas Jefferson, who had been out of the country during the Constitutional Convention, James Madison explained that the Constitution’s framers considered the Senate to be the great “anchor” of the government.
To the framers themselves, Madison explained that the Senate would be a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” that tended to influence the attitudes of the general public and members of the House of Representatives.
George Washington is said to have told Jefferson that the framers had created the Senate to “cool” House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea.
It’s supposed to be hard to get legislation through the Senate, in other words, because a 60-vote margin for passage of legislation helps to prevent the passions of the moment from being enacted into law with little debate and without considering unintended consequences.
Democrats understand, however, that their razor-thin congressional majorities may very well disappear in the 2022 midterms, and those in favor of killing off the filibuster are framing their arguments in a purely partisan manner. From the Post report:
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., warned that if Democrats fail to pass a popular agenda because of arcane Senate rules, the party will suffer in the midterm elections. “It will be a Democratic Party Armageddon in 2022 if we sit here on our butts and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry, we’re not as determined to get our agenda passed as Republicans were,’ ” said Merkley, who is spearheading an overhaul effort.
But Republicans say such changes would create a free-for-all in the Senate and contend Democrats are threatening to toss the rules to gain an unearned political advantage.
“The same party that wants to change Senate rules when they lose a vote, pack the Supreme Court when they lose a case and throw out the electoral college every time they lose the White House now wants to forcibly rewrite 50 states’ election laws from Washington, D.C.,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said recently on the Senate floor, speaking in opposition to a Democratic election bill.
Merkley may be worried about Democratic election losses if the party doesn’t repeal the filibuster, but I’m more worried about an American Armageddon if they do. Republicans were in a position to nuke the filibuster when Donald Trump took office in 2017, but they didn’t do so because they were aware of the long and short term ramifications to the stability of the nation and our political system. Democrats like Merkley, on the other hand, simply want to accrue power at the expense of the checks and balances within the system, and with seemingly no concern for how half the country might react to the unprecedented power grab.
With Sen. Joe Manchin still telling reporters that he will “never” vote to scrap the filibuster, his Democrat colleagues are now looking for ways to go “semi-nuclear”; getting rid of the filibuster for legislation dealing with voting and civil rights, for instance. That would impact the Senate vote on H.R. 1, and potentially any gun control legislation as well. After all, the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a civil right, though not one that the vast majority of Democrats in the Senate would vote to protect.
Gun control activists and anti-gun politicians know that their priorities don’t have the support of 60 members of the Senate, so expect a big push to change parliamentary procedures, scrap the filibuster, or attempt to ram through gun control by attaching it to a budget bill or other “must pass” piece of legislation if the gun control bills slated to be heard in the House next week are sent to the Senate for approval. At the moment, gun owners should be contacting their Representatives and urging them to reject these new gun control proposals, but they might want to keep their Senator’s office on speed dial as well, because we’re likely going to have a fight over the filibuster and gun control in the weeks ahead.
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