Filibuster frustration

Morgan Griffith
Report from Washington

I have written often in this column about the modern filibuster/cloture rule.

Unlike the classic filibuster, in which a senator might take to the floor for hours to speak on an issue, the modern rule allows a senator to put a secret hold on a bill without having to go to the floor to explain his or her objections. And under the rules, the motion to proceed to debate can be filibustered, meaning the bill might not be debated on the floor at all.

President Trump made news on July 29 by taking to his Twitter feed and blasting the Senate’s filibuster rules. The President agrees with me and is right to be frustrated. As long as the Senate maintains the modern filibuster/cloture rule, it is sidelining Congress as one of the three branches of government and standing in the way of solving some of our country’s problems.

President Trump pointed out, “Many great Republican bills will never pass, like Kate’s Law and complete Healthcare.” Kate’s Law, a bill to increase penalties on illegal immigrants who unlawfully reenter our country after being removed previously, is a great example of the harm caused by the modern filibuster/cloture rule.

In 2016, 55 of the 100 senators voted to open debate on Kate’s Law, but the motion still failed. Not only did the bill not pass the Senate, but its merits were not even debated on the floor. In this instance, the rules allowed opponents of Kate’s Law to avoid explaining on the floor of the Senate why they wanted to protect illegal aliens who repeatedly violated our immigration laws.

In 2017, the House has already sent Kate’s Law over to the Senate, where it will likely never be debated because of the modern filibuster/cloture rule.

One doesn’t have to agree with President Trump on the issues to see the problems the filibuster poses for our democratic republic. I advocated the repeal of the modern filibuster/cloture rule even when the President was one I didn’t agree with, President Obama.

The electorate doesn’t send senators to Washington to avoid tough votes. It does send elected representatives to Washington to solve problems in accord with the will of the majority—not a supermajority. The modern filibuster rule has already eroded public confidence in all of Congress. If a minority of 40 senators continues to obstruct solutions, confidence in our institutions will further erode.

In this Congress, the House has passed legislation that improves our economy, gets Americans back to work, and moves us toward solutions on other problems, but a minority in the Senate has continued to obstruct and delay. According to as of August 1, the House of Representatives has passed 292 bills so far this year. In contrast, the Senate has only passed 42 bills. In the absence of action by the Senate, the problems facing the country will only worsen.

Some have pointed out that in attempting to repeal Obamacare, the Senate was in fact operating on a 51-vote threshold instead of the 60-vote rule. But the 51-vote threshold for legislation is only available in highly particular situations under the complex process called reconciliation.

Knowing that Democrats wouldn’t cooperate on repealing and replacing Obamacare, in order to make health insurance more affordable, the bill had to be carefully tailored to fit the reconciliation rules and qualify for the 51-vote threshold. It is maddening for Congress only to be able to solve problems under an arcane reconciliation process.

Trying to comply with the rules on reconciliation, particularly the Senate interpretations, made it harder to reach a deal in the House and apparently made it impossible to reach a compromise in the Senate.

This year had some minor progress when the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominations was abolished after a minority threatened to obstruct the eminently-qualified Neil Gorsuch. Doing away with that part of the rule was good for our country. If we want to make progress on the difficult issues facing America, the Senate must go further and scrap the modern filibuster/cloture rule entirely.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at (276) 525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.


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