Progressives Urge Filibuster Reform Revival In Senate

WASHINGTON -- Progressive and labor groups on Thursday renewed calls for Senate leaders to reform filibuster rules that have allowed Republicans to repeatedly stonewall presidential nominees and legislation, including gun control.

Fix the Senate Now, a coalition of more than 70 progressive and labor organizations sent a letter to Senate leaders focusing on judicial vacancies. Republicans have repeatedly used filibusters to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees. The coalition's letter urges Senate leaders to change rules requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster.

"There are over 30 more vacancies now than when President Obama took office, dozens of which are classified as 'judicial emergencies,'" the letter reads.

The White House recently withdrew its nomination of former New York state Solicitor General Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, after several attempts to confirm her were filibustered by Republicans.

The letter also mentions filibusters to block nominees for leadership positions at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior.

"The abuse of the filibuster to undermine policies that the minority cannot defeat through normal legislative channels represents a subversion of core democratic principles and Senate traditions, and should not continue," the letter states.

The coalition also launched a petition drive "to restore fairness and honor to the nomination and confirmation process for executive and judicial nominations."

The Senate cut a modest filibuster reform deal in January, which preserved the 60-vote threshold. Since then, Republicans have continued to use the filibuster to block critical nominations sought by Obama, as well as major legislation.

The president made a direct appeal to Republicans in a private meeting last month to stop filibustering his judicial nominees. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened to change the rules by a simple majority vote if judicial nominees don't start moving through the Senate.

Republicans also mounted unprecedented filibusters against Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, and John Brennan for CIA director. Both were later confirmed, but with drama and delay. Republicans also used the filibuster to defeat legislation that would have staved off the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration for a period of 10 months.

Last week, a measure to expand background checks for gun purchases failed to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to become law, despite support from 90 percent of Americans. Only four Republicans voted in its favor, leading many to bemoan the Senate's rules. An additional eight amendments related to gun violence, proposed by both Democrats and Republicans, also fell short of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.


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