Start of a Michael Collins report:
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was furious when Senate Democrats stopped Republicans from filibustering most of President Barack Obama’s nominees. He accused them of a power grab, labeled the move tyranny and even wrote an op-ed piece calling their actions Obamacare II.
But last week, Alexander made a move of his own: He and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, filed legislation that would keep senators from using a filibuster to block any presidential nomination.
“We’re basically putting in place the Senate tradition of an up-or-down vote for presidential nominees,” Alexander, a Maryville Republican, said of his proposal.
Alexander said he wasn’t angry with Democrats for changing the filibuster rules—he was angry about how they did it.
A filibuster is a stalling tactic that allows a senator to keep a debate going and is often used to block a bill or nomination from ever being put to a vote. Senators can vote to stop a filibuster, but that requires 60 votes—a threshold that can be hard to reach.
The filibuster is a useful tool for the minority party because it guarantees them a voice in legislating, and Democrats and Republicans alike have made use of it through the years to stop bills and nominees that they opposed.
After years of partisan squabbling, Democrats decided in late 2013 to put an end to the practice of using filibusters to block presidential nominees. But ending the practice meant changing the rules that govern how the Senate operates. And changing the Senate rules requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes.
Democrats managed to get around that 67-vote threshold by invoking a little-used maneuver that enabled them to change their rules with just a simple majority of those senators voting, usually 51 votes.