Senate Leader Needs to Move on Gun Safety, Filibuster Reform

January 15, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

As Salon’s Steve Kornacki persuasively argues, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a friend of the National Rifle Association, likely helping to kill any meaningful gun control legislation.

Kornacki notes that Reid recently told Nevada reporters that he is not supporting any of the reforms expected to be put forth by the administration (The New York Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden has identified 19 executive orders the president could issue to advance gun safety) and essentially “pronounced the assault weapons ban dead ….”

Kornacki continues:

Not only is there steep resistance in the Republican-controlled House, but the Senate also includes a number of Democrats like Reid from pro-gun states who would rather not go on record voting for a new ban.

In stating that he won’t consider legislation that doesn’t stand a chance in the House, Reid appears to be giving pro-gun Senate Democrats an opportunity to duck the question.

Beyond providing cover to “pro-gun Senate Democrats,” Reid now appears to be wavering on filibuster reform. Last year, Reid took to the Senate floor to bemoan his lack of support for filibuster reform and said he favored reform measures advocated by several Democratic senators.

As noted here numerous times, the filibuster has been used in a destructive manner by Senate Republicans – essentially requiring a super majority to accomplish anything in that chamber, including confirming judges for the federal bench. Reporting for TPM, Sahil Kapur says Reid is “voicing support for a set of changes to the current filibuster rules that would fall short of the more sweeping proposal,” pushed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The measures pushed by Udall, Merkley and Harkin would make it far more difficult for senators to secretly threaten a filibuster, thus shutting down or delaying consideration of important legislation and executive and judicial branch nominations.

According to a press statement about their proposal, the senators are pushing to make it more difficult and much more transparent, to launch a filibuster:

Today, a senator can filibuster legislation or a nominee with a simple phone call,” the statement reads. “This raises the threshold for the Senate to debate a bill, or confirm a nominee, from a simple majority to three-fifths of the Senate, and the senator is not required to publicly state his or her objection. The proposed reforms will require a senator to speak on the floor in order to filibuster, greatly increasing accountability and requiring time and energy if the minority wants to use this tool to obstruct the Senate.

Regarding nominations, the senators also call for reforming the filibuster to curb its use in slowing judicial nominations. Senate Republicans have been especially interested in scuttling or seriously delaying President Obama’s nominations to the federal bench, likely to keep the federal courts skewed rightward. The president ended his first term with more vacancies on the federal courts than when he started. There are now more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench with 20 upcoming vacancies. (See JudicialNominations.org for in-depth information about vacancies on the federal bench.)