Filibuster reform will happen on the first day, which could take a few weeks

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

As you all know by now, a group of U.S. Senate Democrats - led by our own Jeff Merkley and New Mexico's Tom Udall - intend to propose a reform of the filibuster on the first day of the new Congress.

Why the first day? Because on that first day, a move to reform the filibuster can't itself be filibustered - since the reform would be contained in an amendment to the rules, before they're passed. (And since they won't, at that moment, be passed yet - the filibuster doesn't technically exist yet.) It would require some parliamentary "fireworks", but most observers think it's doable.

Which makes this National Journal news item very concerning and confusing:

While some Senate Democrats plan to move Wednesday on an effort to force changes to Senate filibuster rules, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is working to forestall a resulting floor fight on the issue for at least a few weeks to allow more time for talks with GOP leaders.

Oh no! Once again, Harry Reid is going to screw everything up! We can all hear the cries of anguished progressives already.

But wait, there's more. Throughout this last year and this reform movement, we've all learned far more than we ever wanted about Senate procedure -- and yet, somehow, we've only scratched the surface. And so, without further ado, one more bit of Senate parliamentary trivia. Here we go:

In the Senate, a "day" may not actually be 24 hours long.

You read that right. In fact, a single day could even last for weeks. Confused? Yeah, apparently there's something called a "legislative day" -- and all this talk of the "first day" has really been about the first legislative day.

As long as they simply "recess" (take a short momentary break) instead of "adjourn" (go home for the day), it's still the same day. Even if that recess lasts a few days, or even weeks.

Now that you understand the terminology, watch this video - featuring Senator Jeff Merkley on tonight's Rachel Maddow Show - to understand the political implications. Short version: Merkley's not concerned. Why not? Because it may be that the delay will actually serve to nail down the support of all the Democratic Senators for a single proposal -- as noted in the National Journal item:

The delay gives “Dems a couple of weeks to negotiate among themselves,” a GOP leadership aide said.

So, tune in to C-SPAN2 on Wednesday - but don't be surprised if the fireworks are delayed for a while. We'll keep you posted.

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    When the average citizen can't understand or follow the arcane, byzantine rules of the Senate it's not hard to figure why it is held in such low esteem and so distrusted as an antidemocratic institution.

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      The average citizen doesn't even vote regularly, so I think it's less an issue of can't understand" and more one of doesn't bother to research or ask how it works. I believe there is a great crossover between intellectually lazy and whiny. I hold the Senate in low esteem to a some degree because the leaders in the majority have allowed the minority to run the show, but mostly because the bastards in the minority has been hell bent on screwing the general public while enriching the corporate donors to their campaigns and retirement funds. We in Oregon are quite fortunate to have very good Democratic Senators who really do care about the average citizen, and generally do what is right for America.

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    Glad to see Sen. Merkley is pushing for this.

    On a side note (and I apologize for getting a bit off topic), is it just more or is the guy filling in for Rachel trying to act just like her? I swear I'm watching the male version of Ms. Maddow.

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      It's just you. Chris Hayes is a good journalist, and obviously not entirely comfortable sitting in Rachel's place while she is away. The writers and director give him his copy and he reads it, and during interviews I think he does pretty well with his own patter.

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    Okay, Kari, what's the update on this? They started something today in the Senate but where are they in this process?

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    This is almost as hard to understand as the electoral college and moving to a popular vote.


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