Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said the legislative filibuster had “become the death grip of democracy” during a speech on the Senate floor Monday.
“The truth is, as filibusters and threatened filibusters have increased in recent decades, real debate and bipartisan cooperation have plummeted,” Durbin said. “Today’s filibuster is often used to prevent the Senate from even starting to debate important ideas. It’s not the guarantor of democracy. It has become the death grip of democracy.”
Durbin, Illinois’ senior senator and the second-highest ranking Senate Democrat, also referenced the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Thurmond’s filibuster lasted more than 24 hours and is the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator.
“The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy,” Durbin said. “The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people.”
Durbin’s floor speech Monday comes amid growing pressure within the Senate Democratic caucus and from progressive groups to eliminate the filibuster. Invoking the “nuclear option” would allow Democrats, who control a narrow 50-seat majority, to pass legislation with a simple majority rather than the 60-vote majority typically required.
Proponents say ending the filibuster would allow Senate Democrats to pass many of President Joe Biden’s biggest legislative items without a single Republican vote. But Democrats do not have enough votes to invoke the “nuclear option” as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have said multiple times they oppose efforts to eliminate the filibuster.
Durbin has previously criticized the filibuster and engaged in discussions behind the scenes about potentially changing Senate rules, according to The Hill. His floor speech Monday may be his strongest pushback against the parliamentary procedure yet. (RELATED: McConnell Says There Are Now ‘Assurances’ Democrats Will Not Abolish The Filibuster)
“Rather than protecting the finely balanced system our founders created, today’s filibuster throws a system out of balance, giving one half of one branch of government what amounts to a veto over the rest of government,” Durbin said. “It promotes gridlock, not good governance.”
The senator noted he was open to discussing rule changes, specifically mentioning a potential new rule that would require senators making use of the filibuster to be physically present on the Senate floor.
“If a senator insists on blocking the will of the Senate, he should at least pay the minimal price of being present. No more phoning it in,” he said. “If the Senate retains the filibuster, we must change the rules so that any senator who wants to bring the government to a standstill endures at least some discomfort in the process”