Please, Democrats, kill the filibuster

Take a look at what those Trump-era cloture votes have been about. You’d expect them to be about legislation, because legislation is the only thing you can filibuster nowadays, right? But they haven’t been! In the current Congress legislative cloture motions have accounted for about 20 of those 245 cloture motions, and most of those concerned bills you never heard of. In the previous Congress it was pretty much the same story.

Trump-era cloture votes have mostly been votes not to unblock legislation but to end debate on nominations—even though you can’t filibuster a nomination. Senate Democrats have been “filibustering” Trump nominees, many of whom have been ludicrously unqualified, by compelling the Republican majority routinely to call a cloture vote. Imposing cloture on a nomination requires only 51 votes, as opposed to the 60 that nominations used to require, so if you have the votes to end debate you also have the votes to confirm. But Democrats have been requiring the votes anyway—to buy time perhaps to persuade a few Republicans to oppose a bad nomination; to protest a bad nomination, or just to be obnoxious—and so the number of cloture motions has skyrocketed. But the tactic hasn’t fouled up many nominations, because it can’t.

Put simply, the number of cloture motions is no longer a measure of out-of-control filibustering. It’s merely a measure for how much bad feeling there is right now within the U.S. Senate. (That’s reflected also in use by the minority of more arcane delay tactics.) Which of course has a lot to do with Donald Trump being president.

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