Below are notes from my FNC colleague Chad Pergram. It is the battle over filibuster…
Urgent: Reid says McConnell “doth protest too much” about filibuster rules change proposal
Per Pergram-Capitol Hill
Good back and forth on the Senate floor right now between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) about Reid’s efforts to dial back some filibuster rights which are granted to the minority.
McConnell starts by invoking the stance of the late-Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) who fiercely protected the right of unlimited debate in the Senate. McConnell’s remarks are below.
Reid takes the floor after McConnell…and says “I don’t quote Shakespeare very often, but I think my friend ‘doth protest too much.’”
Debate still going on.
Here’s McConnell’s remarks:
Yesterday the Majority Leader and I had a spirited discussion about his intention to change Senate Rules outside of the process provided in those Rules.
“When he was in the minority, my friend from Nevada objected strenuously to the very procedure he now wants to employ. He called using a simple-majority maneuver to change senate procedure the ‘nuclear option,’ and described it as ‘breaking the rules to change the rules.’
“Now that he’s in the majority, he says the ends justify the means. He says we have to make the Senate more efficient, and we have to violate the Senate’s rules to do so, so that he and his colleagues in the majority can implement more easily their vision for America.
“According to him, ‘these minor changes won’t affect anyone that [has] the thought of making America better.’ Now, of course, in the Majority Leader’s world, it will be just he and his colleagues who determine what makes ‘America better.’ In short, according to my friend from Nevada, the means by which he wants to achieve his ends don’t matter—only his ends matter.
“That’s pretty convenient if you happen to be in the majority at the moment. I say again, at the moment. But convenience—or ‘efficiency,’ as my friend has described it—is not what the Senate has been about.
“My friend the Majority Leader may have put it best in 2006 when he made the first of his commitments to respect the rights of the minority:
‘As Majority Leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protected. The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about.’
“My friend from Nevada then committed that he was ‘going to treat my Republican colleagues the way that I expect to be treated,’ and that he would ‘do everything [he could] to preserve the rules and traditions of this institution that I love.’
“In accurately describing the essence and wise purpose of the Senate, the Majority Leader sounded a lot like our former colleague Robert C. Byrd.
“So I was quite surprised to hear our friend from Nevada assert that Senator Byrd would actually support the heavy-handed tactic he intends to employ.
“Now, I’m not going to correct all the inaccuracies my friend made yesterday, like saying four times that it takes 10 days to get on a bill. I don’t know what version of Riddick’s my friend has been reading, but if it actually took 10 days to get on a bill, I might support some Rules changes myself.
“But I must disabuse my friend from Nevada of his belief about how Senator Byrd would view the heavy-handed tactic he intends to employ. Unlike the Majority Leader, I recall when our late colleague spoke on this topic at a Rules Committee hearing the last time the Majority Leader entertained ‘breaking the rules to change the rules.’ And Senator Byrd was unequivocally against violating Senate Rules to change the Rules the way the current Majority Leader proposes.
“Senator Byrd began by noting that, “[O]ur Founding Fathers intended the Senate to be a continuing body that allows for open and unlimited debate and the protection of minority rights. Senators have understood that,’ he stated, ‘since the Senate first convened.’
“Senator Byrd also noted that at the Constitutional Convention, James Madison recorded that the Senate was to be ‘a necessary fence’ in order ‘to protect the people against their rulers,’ and ‘to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.’
“How did Senator Byrd view the filibuster in the role of the Senate? How did it relate to the Senate as ‘necessary fence?’
“He said, ‘The right to filibuster anchors this necessary fence.’
“Now, Senator Byrd acknowledged that this right should not be abused, and that ‘there are many suggestions as to what we should do’ if it is abused. He recounted procedures that currently exist under the rules—I say again, procedures that currently exist under the Rules—to address it if it is.
“And as I suggested yesterday, Senator Byrd also indicated that simply working a full week could address some of these concerns. Senator Byrd bemoaned the fact that ‘the Senate often works three day weeks.’ In other words, if you want the Senate to be more productive, start working more.
“But Senator Byrd was clear about what we should never do. He said, ‘We must never, ever, tear down the only wall—the necessary fence—this nation has against the excesses of the Executive Branch and the resultant haste and tyranny of the majority.’
“Senator Byrd was a historian; he was a skillful majority leader who understood the unique importance of the Senate and the need of a majority leader to keep his commitments; but he was also a political realist who had been around enough to understood that political majorities are fleeting. And if you break the rules to suit your political purposes of the moment, you may regret having done so when you find yourself in the minority.
“Senator Byrd specifically said, ‘I strongly caution my colleagues as some propose to alter the rules to severely limit the ability of a minority to conduct a filibuster. I know what it is to be Majority Leader, and wake up on a Wednesday morning in November, and find yourself a Minority Leader.’
“To make sure there was no doubt as to his views on the subject, Senator Byrd concluded by unequivocally objecting to the use of the nuclear option that the Senator from Nevada is now proposing. He said, ‘The [Rules] Committee must, however, jealously guard against efforts to change or reinterpret the Senate rules by a simple majority, circumventing Rule 22 where a two-thirds majority is required.’
“So my friend the Majority Leader is no more correct about Senator Byrd’s views on the nuclear option—on the idea of breaking the rules to change the rules—than he is about taking 10 days to get on a bill.
“I will conclude by reading what are likely the last words that Senator Byrd spoke on the subject of the nuclear option, and I encourage my colleagues to reflect on his wise counsel. He said: ‘As I have said before, the Senate has been the last fortress of minority rights and freedom of speech in the Republic for more than two centuries. I pray that Senators will pause and reflect before ignoring that history and tradition in favor of the political priority of the moment.’”
Senior Producer for Capitol Hill