Sen. Michael Bennet participates on a Zoom call with supporters on June 22, 2021. (screenshot)
Three southwestern Democratic U.S. senators during a private Zoom call with supporters on Tuesday suggested they were open to filibuster reform but stopped short of offering specifics on the kind of reform they would get behind.
The senators — Michael Bennet of Colorado, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Mark Kelly of Arizona — are each up for reelection in 2022.
Bennet suggested the abuse of the filibuster, rather than the filibuster itself, was the real obstacle to success of the Democrats’ agenda in Congress.
“It makes it very hard to compete when we’ve got something like the filibuster, the abuse of the filibuster is a better way of saying it, in the hands of Mitch McConnell,” Bennet said, referring to the Republican Senate minority leader.
Filibusters are permitted by a Senate rule that effectively requires 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to pass most legislation. It has been the topic of recent heated debate, because it increasingly has been employed as a method of obstruction. Republicans on Tuesday used the filibuster to block what Democrats viewed, in the face of voter suppression measures enacted by GOP-controlled state legislatures, as a critical elections reform bill, the For the People Act. Democrats, who control the Senate by the thinnest margin, face pressure to curb or eliminate the filibuster, which could be achieved with a majority vote.
“I think we need to create a Senate that’s deliberative, I think we need to create a Senate where in the end … the majority can actually make a decision,” Bennet said. “We need to create a Senate that on the way protects the right of the minority to participate meaningfully in that deliberation … (What) the country cannot afford is another period of obstruction that looks like the period of obstruction that Mitch McConnell led when Barack Obama was our president, we simply cannot afford it again. And we’re gonna have a tough negotiation among ourselves to figure out how to get through it, but I think we will.”
Cortez Masto also indicated she is open to reform.
“If any issue forces this discussion as to do something and address the filibuster, it is For the People Act,” she said. “Because it is crucial that we get this done.” She added, “And there is talk now about reforming the filibuster. The question will be what will that reform look like? … That’s the conversation that’s taking place, and I suspect will take place for the next couple of weeks or so.”
Kelly similarly said the filibuster is creating roadblocks in the Senate but avoided stating support for specific filibuster reforms and instead affirmed that “there are other discussions going on, about how do we, you know, modify the rules to make the place more functional.”
At one point, an attendee asked Kelly what he planned to do to get Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — Arizona’s other senator — and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin “to end the filibuster” and allow for Democrats to have a “functional majority” in the Senate.
“Yeah, sir, certainly we need a change. We’re not going to keep doing the same thing and get a different result,” Kelly responded. He added: “There’s no other democracy, as far as I know, that works the way the United States Senate does. So structurally, it’s got major issues. I would like to see us, you know, change the rules.”
“I continue to work with my Democratic colleagues,” Kelly continued. “Michael and I were speaking about this just today about, you know, what are our options? How can we make this place run better? And I imagine that the three of us will continue to have conversations, and not only with the Democrats, but with the Republicans as well.”
Much frustration among Democratic voters has centered on conservative Democrats Manchin and Sinema, who are vocal in their opposition to filibuster reform. One supporter asked the senators on the Zoom call if any of them had socialized with Manchin on his houseboat, which he famously keeps docked on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and the nature of their relationship to Manchin.
Bennet replied that he had been invited to but never visited Manchin’s houseboat. But he said Colorado’s junior senator, John Hickenlooper, who took office in January, had.
“It will not surprise you to know that my colleague, John Hickenlooper, has already been, I think probably several times, because he’s more of an extrovert and the life of the party in ways that I’m not,” Bennet said.
Kelly indicated he had visited Manchin’s boat: “It’s not a houseboat. It’s a rather large boat. Got a few decks. Nice to go out there on the water.”
Later in the hour-long call, Bennet said Democrats should emulate McConnell’s strategic skill.
“I believe very strongly that I would not want any of my colleagues to be as cynical as Mitch McConnell is. But I do think we need to be as strategic as Mitch McConnell is,” Bennet said. “And I think there have been a lot of times in the last decade when that hasn’t been the case. And I regret that to some extent, because of his relentlessness … It’s clear that we have got to be clear about what it is we’re trying to achieve. And we’ve got to do what’s necessary to achieve it.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional comments from Sen. Mark Kelly.
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