Elias Atienza is a history junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
During every election cycle it seems like there is a new crusade against the filibuster. Senate Democrats killed it with the nuclear option in 2013 when it came to appointing judicial nominees. Similarly, the Republican Party killed it when it came to confirming Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. Now Trump wants to do away with it completely after the government shutdown that occurred due to the Democratic filibuster.
“Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border,” Trump tweeted Jan. 21. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!”
Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2018
The filibuster is a tactic that obstructs the ability of the Senate to vote on a measure unless 60 members vote to end debate. It is one of the oldest Senate traditions; technically, it has been in place since the Constitution was signed. However, it wasn’t used till 1837, and the first major use was in 1841, when Senator William R. King threatened a filibuster over the Second National Bank of the United States. There is a way to overrule by invoking the ‘nuclear’ option, which essentially kills the filibuster and allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority, instead of 60 votes.
Trump wants to eliminate it completely. He sees it as an obstruction to his agenda. Examples include when the Senate failed to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, or the recent government shutdown. His Office of Budget Management Director Mick Mulvaney supports the elimination.
“There’s a bunch of different ways to fix this. We just want it to get fixed,” Mulvaney said on CNN.
However, there are reasons why the filibuster shouldn’t be killed.
Doing away with the rule hurts both parties. Eliminating the filibuster allows the majority party to run amok during their time of control, ensuring consensus is not reached on major legislation before it is passed. There is a reason why the Senate is known as the world’s most deliberative body. They take time to consider the effect of bills on the American populace and the filibuster allows for this.
But there is a more important reason why the filibuster shouldn’t end.
The tactic has been used to bring attention to important issues, such as drone strikes on U.S soil and the mass collection of every American’s phone records. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) used the filibuster to rail against the unconstitutionality of using a drone strike on an American on American soil in 2013, which brought attention to issues such as secret kill lists that the previous administration used to justify killing a sixteen-year-old American citizen overseas in 2012.
Paul also used a 10-hour filibuster in 2015 that brought even more attention to the National Security Agency (NSA) spying that swept up Americans metadata and brought up an even bigger issue of the sweeping up of everyone’s records through other legislation, such as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Senator Bernie used the filibuster in 2010 to protest against extending the Bush-era tax cuts that launched him into national prominence and paved the way for his campaign in 2016. His actions also allowed the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to be heard.
Filibusters force people to look deeper into issues, instead of toeing the party line and pretending the problems don’t exist. It also forces the Senate to address these issues, instead of sweeping them under the rug. This is something that almost happened earlier this month. Senators such as Paul and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) filibustered the renewal of Section 702 of FISA, forcing a debate on American’s privacy and national security.
Luckily, the Senate has thrown cold water on Trump wanting to end the filibuster. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) used the nuclear option to get Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, 61 Senators sent a letter to him asking him to preserve the rule.
McConnell agreed, saying, “The core of the Senate is the legislative filibuster. This notion that this somehow bleeds over into the legislative filibuster is untrue. I’m opposed to it … I think that’s what fundamentally changes the Senate.”