Remember When Senate Democrats Hated the Filibuster?

Andrew Mullins | February 6, 2017
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For good or for bad, outrage is a currency in politics.  In 2013, Democrats harnessed widespread outrage at Republican attempts to filibuster Obama’s judicial nominees, but it didn’t work out the way Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer were expecting.


(H/T to the Free Beacon’s David Rutz for this excellent supercut.)

To put everything in context, this whole situation started when Republicans filibustered Barack Obama’s attempt to stack the D.C. Appeals Court with three liberal judges. Democrats realized that they couldn’t confirm their president’s appointees under current Senate rules, so what did they do? Branded the GOP as “obstructionist," drummed up outrage, and changed the rules.

Instead of going with the long-held filibuster-proof 60 votes needed for confirming nominations, they changed the senate rules so that nominations could be confirmed with a simple 51-vote majority.

What Democrats didn’t factor into their rule-changing equation, however, is that they might not always be the majority… or in power. Because the Democrats changed the rules to prevent a minority party from blocking a presidential appointment in the Senate, they unwittingly shot themselves in the foot. While the filibuster rules directly affected judicial appointments at the time, Democrats also changed the filibuster rules for cabinet secretary nominations.

Well, unfortunately for senators Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected president. Which means that any cabinet nomination or judicial nomination made by President Trump will likely coast through on a simple majority vote. 

It’s worth noting that most cabinet nominations have traditionally passed with 80-100 “yes” votes. However, the filibuster doesn’t exist for the largely uncontroversial, routine appointments of a president. The filibuster exists to give a minority party the ability to negotiate or prevent a president’s more controversial nominees.

In other words, Harry Reid permanently handicapped his party’s ability to block President Trump’s cabinet appointments. Including the nominations that many Democrat senators are branding as “controversial” or “outside the main stream.”

Thanks to Harry’s Reid’s rule change, Senate Republicans had little trouble confirming Rex Tillerson (56-3)and Betsy DeVos (51-50). Under the old rules, the president would have been forced to either moderate his pick, or give concessions to the minority party to surpass the old 60-vote threshold.

Now that Senate Republicans are using the Democrats' own rule change against them, you definitely won’t hear Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren complaining about the evils of “obstructionism” (that's a different story altogether).

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats, the internet doesn’t forget. Many current senators were more than happy to back Harry Reid in changing the filibuster rules, but as they’re quickly learning that what goes around, comes around.


As of right now, Supreme Court nominees are still subject to traditional 60-vote filibuster rules. But with the confirmation process back in the spotlight, thanks to Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, there will no doubt be Democrats vowing to filibuster this pick.

But once again, history bares its teeth against Democrats and their new-found romance with filibuster rules. Not six months ago, Harry Reid threatened to kill the filibuster (under an assumed President Hillary Clinton) if Republicans continued to block the Democratic agenda.

Outrage isn’t so pretty with the tables turned, is it?