With an evenly split Senate and a slim majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris' deciding vote, Democrats trying to enact President Joe Biden's agenda — including a sweeping voting rights bill — are up against a filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass most legislation and allows the minority party to block some bills that have majority support.
The rule has long been contentious. In 2013, Democrats deployed what was called the "nuclear option" and got rid of the 60-vote requirement for federal judicial nominations, excepting the Supreme Court, and executive-office appointments. In 2017 Republicans triggered another legislative nuclear device by eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments.
Now the rule could go back on the chopping block for legislation itself with Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, for the first time in a decade — and Republicans standing in the way of their priorities. There are an array of options: changing the votes required from 60 to 55, forcing senators to return to a "talking filibuster" where the delay only lasts if senators keep talking (think "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") or eliminate the rule altogether.
To end or change the filibuster, Democrats need 50 votes. But by our count, they don't yet have half of that number firmly ready to roll back the procedure.
Here's what every Democrat in the Senate has said about changing the filibuster:
Yes to reforming the filibuster (24)
- Tammy Baldwin: Co-sponsored a bill to move to the "talking filibuster" in 2013, per her office press release.
- Richard Blumenthal: "I think we ought to end the filibuster, unquestionably. It is an obstacle to conquering the pandemic and reviving the economy, getting stuff done," he said in January, according to CNN.
- Cory Booker: "For the sake of our vulnerable populations, for the sake of America doing big things again, the filibuster has to be reformed," Booker said to Huffington Post in March.
- Sherrod Brown: "We've got to eliminate the filibuster," he told the Atlantic in November 2020.
- Maria Cantwell: "I supported Senator Merkley's talking filibuster proposal in 2011 and I still support it today," Cantwell tweeted in June.
- Ben Cardin: "I would be prepared to eliminate the filibuster, but I don't think you have the votes in the Senate to do it," Cardin told the Washington Post in March, adding, "I'm trying to find a bipartisan buy-in to reforming the Senate."
- Kirsten Gillibrand: "I'm of the view that we should eliminate the filibuster despite all the risks," she said in January, according to the Times Union. Gillibrand said Republicans should have a chance to show that they can work with Democrats first.
- Mazie Hirono: "I would like to get rid of the filibuster or we would have to use reconciliation to pass some of these really big bills," Hirono told the Daily Show in May.
- Amy Klobuchar: "I would get rid of the filibuster," Klobuchar told Mother Jones in March. "I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill."
- Ben Ray Lujan: "For me, my constituents supported me knowing that I support filibuster reform," Lujan said in March, according to Roll Call.
- Ed Markey: "Unless we abolish the filibuster, there will be no progress on any agenda focused on justice, fairness, or basic survival," Markey wrote in a March press release.
- Bob Menendez: He supports the "talking filibuster," a spokesman said in March. "He will continue to work with his Democratic colleagues to see what reform looks like," the spokesman said.
- Jeff Merkley: Proposed eliminating the filibuster for specific issues, like voting rights, to the Atlantic in January. Co-sponsored a bill to move to the "talking filibuster" in 2013, per a press release.
- Chris Murphy: "I just think the filibuster is fundamentally anti-Democratic," Murphy told the Washington Post in March.
- Patty Murray: "The For the People Act is essential to making sure our democracy stays a democracy and I will consider every legislative option, including an exemption to the filibuster, to ensure it can be signed into law," Murray told the Spokesman-Review in March.
- Jon Ossoff: "I'm open" to reform, Ossoff told NewsHour on Tuesday. "The details of any proposed rules change will matter."
- Alex Padilla: "I'm in favor of abolishing the filibuster," Padilla told CNN in March.
- Jacky Rosen: Supports reforming the filibuster and eliminating it "in the case of protecting democracy," she told the Washington Post in a statement in June.
- Bernie Sanders: "If passing (voting rights legislation) requires us to eliminate the filibuster, then that is what we must do," Sanders wrote in a statement in July 2020.
- Brian Schatz: "No legislatures on earth have a supermajority requirement because that's stupid and paralyzing. It's time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster," Schatz wrote on Twitter in February.
- Tina Smith: "We need to move this country forward, and that's why I've decided to come out in support of eliminating the filibuster," Smith wrote on Twitter in March.
- Chris Van Hollen: "[The filibuster] just compounds the anti-democratic nature of the U.S. Senate," he said in an interview with the Washington Post in March.
- Elizabeth Warren: "We are willing to roll back the filibuster, go with the majority vote and do what needs to be done for the American people," she declared at a presidential debate in 2020.
- Ron Wyden: "The American people want bold action to address our country's many challenges, and Democrats now have more options to overcome Republican obstruction and get things done, he said in June, according to the New York Times.
Open to reform (22)
- Michael Bennet: Supported a 2010 bill to shorten the length of and limit opportunities for filibusters.
- Bob Casey: "The filibuster was not a part of the Founder's original design. I was elected to serve the people, not an arcane Senate procedure. If the choice comes down to the filibuster or democracy, I know which side I'm on," he wrote on Twitter in April.
- Chris Coons: "I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration's initiatives blocked at every turn," Coons said in 2020.
- Catherine Cortez Masto: "If McConnell wants to block action on health care, climate change, and voting rights, he should have to stand on the Senate floor and be transparent about his obstruction," Masto said in a statement in 2020.
- Tammy Duckworth: If Republicans obstruct the process, "everything's on the table," she told WHBF in February.
- Dick Durbin: "Unfortunately, we've reached that point. And if enough members in the Senate agree, we'll change the rules," Durbin said in March, according to the Hill.
- Dianne Feinstein: "[A talking filibuster] is an idea worth discussing," she wrote in a March press release. "I don't want to turn away from Senate traditions, but I also don't believe one party should be able to prevent votes on important bills by abusing the filibuster."
- Maggie Hassan: "I have talked about the importance of reforming it," she said in June, according to NBC.
- Martin Heinrich: "The sort of filibuster usage we see makes it impossible to do some very basic things that the American people demanded of us," he said in March, according to The Hill.
- John Hickenlooper: "I'm open to possible change," Hickenlooper told NewsHour on Tuesday. "It's not my first instinct. I feel frustrated, but yeah, I'm open to change."
- Tim Kaine: "If you want to stand and stop the majority from passing something, you have to stand on your feet and do it to show the American public it's that important," Kaine told CBS in March.
- Angus King: "If … the minority hangs together and regularly uses this power to block any and all initiatives of the majority [and their president], supporting the continuation of the rule becomes harder and harder to justify, regardless of the long-term consequences," King wrote in an Op-Ed in March.
- Patrick Leahy: A source close to Leahy confirmed to NewsHour that Leahy believes the filibuster should be a tool for bipartisanship and if it is used by Republicans to block critical legislation, the Senate should consider reform.
- Gary Peters: "If they are not acting in good faith, then we have to reassess the filibuster rule," Peters told WDET in March.
- Jack Reed: "The onus is on Senate Minority Leader McConnell. He can either be a constructive part of that effort or create a wall of partisan obstruction and further threaten the Senate's traditions," Reed said in January.
- Chuck Schumer: "Everything is on the table" to pass a voting rights bill, Schumer said at a news conference in March.
- Jeanne Shaheen: "I think we should look at ways to reform the filibuster, but I don't think getting rid of it is the best approach," she told CNN in March.
- Debbie Stabenow: "There are really important things like voting rights that can't be done through [the 50-vote process of] reconciliation," she told reporters in March.
- Jon Tester: "If the filibuster continues to be weaponized and it ends up in gridlock, then it doesn't leave a lot of choices," he told MSNBC in early June.
- Mark Warner: "… when it comes to fundamental issues like protecting Americans from draconian efforts attacking their constitutional right to vote, it would be a mistake to take any option off the table," Warner emailed the Washington Post in March, stressing his hopes for a bipartisan solution.
- Raphael Warnock: "The attack on voting rights right now is so urgent, that all options must be on the table," Warnock said to NPR in March.
- Sheldon Whitehouse: "We have two fronts to work on. One is pressing the filibuster forward, the problem, and try to find a solution to it, which isn't going to come just by day one declaration. And then, two, use reconciliation," he told the Washington Post in March.
Still deciding or unannounced (2)
- Tom Carper: Asked about his thoughts on the filibuster, Carper demurred to NewsHour on Tuesday. "There's a lot of conversations —a lot of discussions, negotiations going on with respect to voting rights, and I'm encouraged by those." (He repeated the statement when asked again about the filibuster.)
- Mark Kelly: "When we get to the point where we're going to have, you know, a serious discussion about this, I'll make a decision based on what's in the best interest of Arizona and the country," Kelly told reporters in April.
Against filibuster reform (2)
- Joe Manchin: "I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster," Manchin wrote in an Op-Ed in the Charleston Gazette in June.
- Kyrsten Sinema: "It's no secret that I oppose eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold," Sinema wrote in an Op-Ed on Tuesday. "If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority."