Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois addressed conflicting remarks regarding the filibuster saying on Sunday that he is posing “a challenge to senators in both political parties” to prove that “under the current rules with the filibuster requiring 60 votes that we can actually produce something.”
Durbin made the comments on CNN’s “State of the Union” six days after waging war against the filibuster, despite warning in 2018 that abolishing the measure “would be the end of the Senate” as envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers.
The filibuster — coming from the Dutch word for “pirate“— is a practice in the Senate where a senator maintains control of the floor by continuously standing and speaking to prevent a bill from being voted on through continuous debate.
“These filibusters turn the world’s most deliberative body into one of the world’s most ineffectual bodies,” Durbin said speaking from the Senate floor last week.
“It’s not the guarantor of democracy it has become the death grip of democracy,” he added.
“It’s time to change the Senate rules,” Durbin went on to say as he criticized the filibuster. “Stop holding the Senate hostage.”
However, host Dana Bash noted that when he spoke on ABC News in January 2018, he had argued “for it.”
“I can tell you that would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our founding fathers,” Durbin said at the time. “We have to acknowledge a respect for the minority and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure.”
Bash noted that Democrats “only have 50 seats in the U.S. Senate, which could prevent them from making progress on President Biden’s priorities, from voting rights to climate change to immigration reform.”
Bash then asked Durbin what she called an “obvious question,” which she explained is that now that “the shoe is on the other foot” and Democrats are in the majority, if that is why he is having a “change of heart.”
“What I said on the Senate floor is not a threat, it’s a challenge to senators in both political parties,” the Illinois senator responded. “Prove to me that under the current rules with the filibuster requiring 60 votes that we can actually produce something.”
He went on to note that “as the chair of the Judiciary Committee, we are desperately in need to rewrite our immigration laws, to stop this mess at the border and to stop the problems that we face.”
“To do it we need a bipartisan majority, 60 senators under the current rules,” he continued. “Can we do it? If ten [Republicans] come forward and join all the Democrats, yes.”
“So it’s a challenge to my colleagues,” he stressed, urging Republicans to “make it work.”
“Right now, we know that the 60-vote requirement has stopped the Senate from meaningful activity,” Durbin continued.
On Tuesday, Durbin tweeted, “Republicans have beaten the old filibuster to the point where it is hardly recognizable.”
“So for Republicans to come to the floor and plead for hanging on to this tradition is actually pleading for the Senate to continue to do less and less each year,” he continued. “That must change.”
On Tuesday, President Biden said in an interview that he is in favor of overhauling the filibuster rules that could help Democrats use their Senate majority to steamroll legislative initiatives without so much as looking at their Republican colleagues.
Biden did not call for an elimination of the action ‒ he doesn’t have the support in the Senate even if he did ‒ but he sided with lawmakers seen as moderates who want changes to some of the rules.
“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,” he said.
Biden was interviewed by ABC News and signaled that he wants to bring back the “talking filibuster,” which has been supported by a number of Democrats, including Durbin.
“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” Biden said.
Explaining why he supports the “talking filibuster” on Sunday Durbin asked, “Is it too much to ask them [senators] to stand at their desk to show that personal commitment?”
“Right now they phone it in,” he explained. “They call the cloak room, the room right off the floor of the Senate chamber and say, ‘Yeah, I think I’m going to do a filibuster. Stop that bill on the floor.’ That’s all it takes now.”
“And some Senators start a filibuster on Friday, go home for the weekend and come back on Monday to see how they’re doing,” Durbin continued. “That’s unacceptable.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have been critics of the Democrat push that has been gaining momentum. McConnell on Tuesday warned of a “scorched earth” landscape if Democrats end the filibuster.
“I think we ought to come together on a bipartisan basis and say, ‘Let’s get serious, if we’re going to require 60 votes in a filibuster, you better show a commitment, a personal commitment to that,’” Durbin said on Sunday.
Fox News’ Houston Keane and Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.