The 60-Vote Norm Nurtured by Senate Republicans

April 19, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

Senators beholden to the NRA successfully blocked compromise legislation containing a few new measures to promote gun safety, providing, as many quickly noted, another example of the sorry mess Republicans have made of the Senate, albeit with the help of some powerful Democrats.

Early this year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed serious filibuster reform aside to enter into a deal with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) that was nonetheless trumpeted as an agreement that would curb the use of the filibuster, often requiring a supermajority to move nominations or legislation along.

After the failed effort to pass modest measures on guns, Salon’s Alex Pareene took down some of the typical excuses for the Senate’s failure, and cut to the point: “The measure failed because of a bunch of asshole senators voted to filibuster it, and they were able to do so because Harry Reid made a deal with Mitch McConnell to preserve the filibuster a few months ago.”

He concluded that the “mainstream political press” should start giving a more critical look at the “legitimacy of the 60-vote threshold ….”

Today as authorities hunted for the second suspect of the Boston marathon bombings -- an immigrant of Chechen origin -- a few senators and right-wing pundits moved quickly to undermine consideration of immigration reform now before Congress.

Elise Foley reporting for The Huffington Post noted that during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) quickly tied the bombings to immigration reform.

“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he said. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”

Jillian Rayfield for Salon noted Grassley’s comments, but also provided a stream of Twitter comments from right-wing pundits, like Ann Coulter. Coulter tweeted early this morning: “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now,” referring to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced by eight senators, including Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.).

Bryan Fischer tweeted that the compromise bill provides amnesty and that it’s time to get tough on immigration. See Rayfield’s work for more outrageously uniformed comments.

The comprise bill is hardly easy on immigrants. Indeed, it still includes rigid measures on achieving border security and a fairly arduous path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country.

Nevertheless the compromise measure has been endorsed by an array of groups, including labor and business. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the compromise bill, more than 800 pages long, “is another step toward addressing a real crisis.” Trumka, however, said that the expansive bill contains some measures that “cause unintended, but serious harm to immigrant workers and the broader labor market. We will work to correct those problems now that a bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

But, as Pareene has already pointed out, Republican senators don’t need much of an excuse to halt consideration of important and popular legislation. They’ve changed the rules, where a 60-vote majority is required for judicial nominations they don’t care for or legislation they are expected by their wealthy constituency to scuttle.

[image via Gage Skidmore]