21:01 GMT20 April 2021
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    The use of a filibuster is a practice by Congress of "talking out a bill" during debate aimed at either delaying a vote or "killing" it entirely by speaking as long as they wish until a three-fifths voting majority brings the debate to an end. Currently, however, a lawmaker can delay a bill without lengthy speeches or even remaining on the floor.

    Republican Senator Tom Cotton on Thursday said he is ready to spend as much time as it takes on the Senate floor to prevent Democrats to "use their tiny majority to lock in permanent changes to our elections so they never relinquish power."

    "I join all my colleagues in saying there is no amount of time that I will not dedicate on the Senate floor to stopping the Democrats from passing this kind of radical legislation," Cotton said on Wednesday, referring particularly to a voting bill seeking to expand voting rights for Americans, dubbed the For The People Act 2021, forwarded by the Democratic party.

    His remarks on the length of Senate floor speeches came amid the Democratic party pushing the initiative to reform the practice of the filibuster, for instance by bringing back "the talking filibuster", in particular to more easily pass the voting rights bill through the Senate.

    U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 26, 2021.
    © REUTERS / OCTAVIO JONES
    U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 26, 2021.

    The For The People Act 2021 is touted by the Democrats as expanding voting rights, prohibiting partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and implementing automatic voter registration.

    Particularly, the bill will allow some felons to vote after their sentences are completed, while also promoting "access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities and older individuals".

    The legislation also seeks to impose new financial rules for campaigning and make nominees disclose big donors, and requires presidential nominees release 10 years of tax returns. 

    The GOP opposes the bill, claiming that it would take away state control of elections and expose the electoral process to potential fraud.​

    Other Republicans, including Senator Jerry Moran, believe that the decision to alter the filibuster is being taken by their opponents to make it easier to pass the voting rights legislation, dubbed by Moran a "monstrous bill" that, he claimed, would be "very damning to democracy."

    "It also may become the circumstance in which... the filibuster rule is set aside," Moran said. "It would be terrible, terrible for the United States of America and our citizens for the filibuster -- the 60 vote rule -- to be eliminated."

    Democrats said that passing the For The People Act in the Senate is their top priority, with Senator Chuck Schumer stressing that "S.1 [the voting rights bill] will pass this body". He did not elaborate on whether he would filibuster.

    The US Congress building is seen at dusk on the eve of a possible government shutdown as Congress battles out the budget in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013.
    © AFP 2021 / Mladen Antonov
    The US Congress building is seen at dusk on the eve of a possible government shutdown as Congress battles out the budget in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013.

    What is a Filibuster and How it May Be Reformed?

    The filibuster is a practice used by congress members to delay a measure being brought to a vote or even prevent it from being voted on at all, generally by speaking for as long as they wish before a third-fifths majority vote (currently 60 out of 100) ends the debate.

    However, today members of Congress do not have to stay on the floor and speak for a long time, as a so-called "silent" filibuster allows them to delay a measure even if they leave the floor. In case there is no unanimous agreement on a measure, the leader files a 'cloture' motion and the debate ends if there are 60 votes for that.

    US President Joe Biden voiced his readiness to reform this version of filibuster, offering a return to the original rules of the practice or the "talking filibuster" requiring members of Congress to actually be present on the floor and deliver lengthy speeches in order to halt a vote.

    "I don't think that you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do what it used to be when I first got to the Senate, back in the old days. You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking […] so you've got to work for the filibuster", Biden told ABC news in a Tuesday interview.

    The move to reform or even end the filibuster is seen by Republicans as a threat that could allow many big issues, including immigration reform and gun control, to be passed by the simple majority that the Democrats now have.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reacting to the Democratic initiative of reforming or ending the filibuster, colorfully suggested that it will result in a "nuclear winter" for the Senate.

    "I think if they destroy the essence of the Senate, the legislative filibuster, they will find a Senate that will not function," McConnell opined.

    Related:

    Sanders Says He Intends to Filibuster Overriding Trump's Defence Bill Veto for $2,000 COVID Checks
    GOP Senate Leader Warns of 'Nuclear Winter' if Democrats Abolish, Reform the Filibuster
    'Stand Up and Command the Floor': Biden Calls for Senate Filibuster Reform
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