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Cortez Masto backs the ‘talking filibuster’

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez

Citing a concern that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would prevent cooperation between the parties, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) came out in support of enforcing the talking filibuster to require a senator to be on the floor to block legislation, a change that would limit the ability of the minority Republicans to thwart the Democratic agenda.  

“McConnell is determined to exploit the filibuster and fight progress on the most urgent crises facing our nation and if he 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,” Cortez Masto said in a statement from her office. 

Her announcement, which comes as Democrats regained control of the Senate after the November election, represents an evolution in her thinking on the filibuster and shows the growing support within the Democratic conference to remake the procedural tool. In December, she told The Indy that she was "open" to discussing the matter with her Democratic and GOP colleagues on what a change would mean for the Senate.

The filibuster is a tool used in the Senate to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on legislation. It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, known as invoking cloture in Senate parlance. The idea is to encourage the majority to seek support from the minority in order to reach a bipartisan compromise.

But under current practice, Senate leaders typically know or have some idea of how many senators support or oppose a bill. Bills that have less than the support of 60 senators often are not scheduled and hence die for the session. That means that bills with the support of at least 51 senators, that would pass if not for the filibuster, never get a vote. 

Cortez Masto, who prides herself on working with Republicans, argued that the talking filibuster could help her do just that.

“My job is to make a difference for the people of Nevada, and I look forward to partnering with all of my colleagues and passing legislation that addresses the challenges Nevadans are facing today,” the Nevada Democrat said.

The talking filibuster usually evokes the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which the protagonist launches a filibuster to clear his name of impropriety. Over the years, there have been some famous talking filibusters, including that of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) who in 1957 held the floor for more than 24 hours straight in an effort to block the Civil Rights Act. The bill passed about two hours after he ended his filibuster. 

Cortez Masto is the latest in a growing chorus of senators seeking to force a senator or senators seeking to block a bill to come to the Senate floor and hold it for as long as they want to block the legislation. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the moderate who forced a scaling back of aid in the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package passed by the Senate last week, also endorsed the so-called talking filibuster over the weekend. 

“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk, I’m willing to look at any way we can,” Manchin said of the filibuster on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

Prior to his comments Sunday, Manchin had signaled his support for keeping the rule for the sake of forcing bipartisanship—a point he reiterated.

“But I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority,” Manchin said.

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