Obama’s Filibuster Messaging

This is the most powerful messaging around the need for Senate rules reform that I have seen:

Q On that same issue, because a lot of progressives — and you said you’re not the king — well, a lot of progressives feel that senators, especially in the minority they think — we call them the House of Lords.

And are you in favor of any form of filibuster reform? Because there are several bills being talked about. And there is a unique time that — by the way, we’re also very happy that Vice President Biden went down to do a fundraiser for Alan Grayson. He’s the type of Democrat that speaks out and fights. And that’s what the progressive community really likes.

But he also might have the opportunity in January to be — to help out. And can we get — or are you for any of the bills that are out there to support — to change this rule that is paralyzing the administration?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ve got to be careful about not looking like I’m big-footing Congress. We’ve got separate branches of government. The House and the Senate have their own rules. And they are very protective of those prerogatives.

I will say that as just an observer of our political process that if we do not fix how the filibuster is used in the Senate, then it is going to be very difficult for us over the long term to compete in a very fast moving global environment.

What keeps me up at night is China, Germany, India, Brazil — they’re moving. They make decisions, we’re going to pursue clean energy, and the next thing you know they’ve cornered half the clean energy market; we’re going to develop high-speed rail in the span of five years — suddenly they’ve got high-speed rail lines going; we’re going to promote exports, here’s what we’re going to do — boom, they get going.

And if we can’t sort of execute on key issues that will determine our competitiveness over the long term, we’re going to fall behind — we are going to fall behind.

And the filibuster is not part of the Constitution. The filibuster, if you look at the history of it, may have arisen purely by accident because somebody didn’t properly apply Robert’s Rules of Procedure and forgot to get a provision in there about what was required to close debate. And folks figured out very early, this could be a powerful tool. It was used as a limited tool throughout its history. Sadly, the primary way it was used was to prevent African Americans from achieving civil rights.

But setting aside that sordid aspect of its history, it was used in a very limited fashion. The big debates, the big changes that we had historically around everything from establishing public schools to the moon launch to Social Security, they weren’t subject to the filibuster. And I’m sympathetic to why the minority wants to keep it. And in fairness, Democrats, when we were in the minority, used it on occasion to blunt actions that we didn’t think were appropriate by the Bush administration.

This really puts the framing back around Democrats are trying to make America better while Republicans are rooting for America to fail. Powerful stuff, especially when coming from the President.

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