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Features of Congress

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Filibuster is a term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.[1] In short, a filibuster occurs where debate is extended, allowing one or more Senators to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal.

It takes 60 votes in the Senate to block or end a filibuster.[2] Senate rules allow any member or group of senators to speak as long as necessary on an issue. The only way to end the debate is to evoke "cloture," or with a vote of 60 members. Without the 60 votes needed, the filibuster can go on indefinitely.[3]

"Nuclear option"

On November 21, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate. The "nuclear option" is using an interpretation of Senate procedure to be able to change chamber rules with a simple majority vote. In this case, the option was used to change the vote requirement for executive nominee confirmations to be considered on the floor.[4] Prior to the rule change, Senators could filibuster until a cloture motion requiring 60 votes was passed in the chamber. The "nuclear option" changed the requirement to a simple majority. The threat of the "nuclear option" occurred in many Congresses, but none had put the option into use.[5]

The "nuclear option" was invoked in response to Senate Republicans blocking the nomination of three D.C. Circuit Court judges. The rule change passed by a vote of 52-48, with Carl Levin, Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor being the only Democrats to vote in opposition. According to the Congressional Research Service, of the 67 times between 1967 and 2012 the filibuster was used on a judicial nominee, 31 have been during during the Obama administration.[5]

The change in rules does not apply to legislation or Supreme Court nominees.[4]

Silent Filibuster

Unlike filibusters throughout history, most filibusters today are not considered "talking filibusters." [6] The scene with Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a famous example of a talking filibuster, where Smith’s character collapses after a 24-hour filibuster in the 1939 film.[6][3]

In the current Senate, a member doesn’t need to speak on the floor, in a filibuster, to block a vote from happening. The filibuster can even be done by email.[6][7] According to the current Senate rules, the minority or opposing party can indicate that it has 41 out of 100 voters that will support a filibuster by defeating a vote to block it. The majority party then needs to get 60 votes together to approve a time limit for a debate about the bill.[6]

So a senator is not required to physically speak in public for hours to prevent a bill from passing. That senator just needs to issue a warning that there are enough votes to support a filibuster.[6]

Drones filibuster

See also: Rand Paul filibuster of John Brennan's CIA Nomination in March 2013

On March 6, 2013, Senator Rand Paul (R) led a 13-hour filibuster of President Obama's CIA Director nominee, John Brennan. Paul started the filibuster in order to highlight his concerns about the administration's drone policies. In particular, Paul said he was concerned about whether a drone could be used to kill an American citizen within the United States border, without any due process involved. Paul and other civil liberties activists have been critical that President Obama did not offer a clear response to the question. A total of 14 senators joined Paul in the filibuster -- 13 Republicans and one Democrat.[8][9][10]

The day after the filibuster, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Paul, responding to the filibuster. Holder wrote, "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil? The answer to that is no."[11]

McConnell filibusters his own bill

On December 6, 2012, another milestone in filibuster history was reached when Senator Mitch McConnell (R), became the first senator to filibuster his own proposal.[12] McConnell did not give a lengthy speech, instead merely invoking the rules of filibuster on his bill to raise the passage threshold to 60 votes.[13]

Longest filibuster

The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina's J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.[3]

See also

External links