Video: Will Senate Dems follow through on filibuster reform?
Transcript of: Will Senate Dems follow through on filibuster reform?
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: to know what political thing you should fight with your friends and family about over the holidays? Before the lame duck Congress , if you were a liberal, or a centrist or somebody who supported Barack Obama , you were probably going to fight with your friends and family over the holidays about whether or not Barack Obama could get anything done over the next two years -- whether the Republicans are outplaying him in Washington .
But then Barack Obama spent 26 days running circles around the Republican leadership in Washington and getting stuff done, which means that question about the president's political skills is not as potent a field political combat as it might have been before the Democrats in Congress did all of these things that are now scrolling up the screen in the lame duck Congress . Barack Obama signed them. They got done. It if you were worried they couldn't get anything done before, you're no longer worried about those things. So, if you are not going to fight about whether or not Barack Obama can get it stuff done in Washington , what are you going to fight with your friends and family about over the holidays? Believe it or not , you are going to fight with your friends and family over the holidays about the rules of the Senate .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: in 1967 .
MADDOW: Hear me out. I swear you are. You really are going to fight about this. And here's why. January 5th . Mark down January 5th in your calendar. January 5th is the first Wednesday of the year, right? All of this carping about how the Senate is broken, wonky people and young senators nobody has really heard of talking about this major problem with the Senate . That can all change on January 5th , because something conceivably might actually happen on January 5th . On January 5th , which is the first day of the new Congress , it looks entirely possible that Democrats could come back to Washington and fix the Senate . They could come back to Washington and change the rules of the Senate . They can only do it that one day. They have a one-day window for a realistic shot at changing the rules . Then you don't really get another shot for two more years. This might actually happen. They really could change everything on that one day, January 5th .
There are two things that used to be true about the prospects of fixing what's broken in Washington . Two things that used to be true that are no longer true. Number one: it used to be news of Harry Reid planning to do something. Harry Reid planning to outmaneuver Republicans in the Senate was greeted with smirks and snarks and dismissiveness. . After this lame duck Congress , where the Senate passed all these things everybody said could not be passed, nobody is being smirking and dismissive about Harry Reid 's political powers anymore. Today, Greg Sargent at " The Washington Post " quoted a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide saying Harry Reid is in active discussions with other Senate Democrats about how they're going to fix the Senate when they return in January. They're going to change the rules . Quote, "They are already talking it through and devising a plan." That sort of story before the raging duck, angry birds Congress would have been poo-pooed so much by the Beltway media that the FCC would be handing out fines for widespread scatological humor on the Sunday shows. But now, after what Harry Reid pulled off in the Senate in the lame duck Congress , this reporting that he has a plan to fix the Senate , he has a plan to change the rules , which is actually a very simple thing to do, which is within his power to do, this is not being treated as a joke, nor do I think it is a joke. So, that's one thing that's changed. Harry Reid -- Harry Reid saying he is capable of doing this and wants to do it is a big deal . The other thing that's changed is the idea of who exactly wants to fix the Senate . The reason that plans to fix the Senate , to stop letting the Republicans have the run of the place, the reason this idea has been dismissed as a liberal pipe dream, some pie in the sky , never going to happen wish object of the liberal blogosphere is because everybody who thought wanted to fix the Senate were senators that nobody had heard of, the brand new senators, the one who just arrived in Washington , the fresh, young whippersnappers. Well, it turns out, now, it's fresh young whippersnappers like this guy.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This is not a farewell address but rather a closing argument to a jury of my colleagues and the American people outlining my views on how the Senate and with it, the federal government, arrived at its current condition of partisan gridlock. I would retain the 60-vote requirement for cloture on legislation with the condition that senators would have to have a talking filibuster, not merely present a notice of intent to filibuster.
MADDOW: That was Democratic Senator Arlen Specter , who has been in the Senate since Senator Marco Rubio was 10 years old. Arlen Specter giving his farewell speech not about the friendships he made in the Senate during that time or about the landmark legislation he worked on, but about how far broken the Senate is now -- a rip-roaring denunciation of how Republicans have broken the Senate . He called the usurping of the power by the minority tyrannical. Everybody has been deriding the prospect of actually fixing the Senate by saying the old senators will never go along with it. The guys who actually have the real power in the Senate , they're never going to do it. It's only these young, new senators who want to do something about it and young new senators don't have any power to change an institution like the Senate . But, I want you to look at this headline. Check this out. Print this out and tuck it into your January calendar. " The National Journal " yesterday headlined this story. " Senate 's Returning Democrats Unanimously Favor Filibuster Reform." Unanimously. " The National Journal " reporting, quote, "All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to consider action to change long, sacrosanct filibuster rules ." And suddenly, a whole new world of possibility opens up for American politics . Listen, I know it's impossible to believe that the political thing you're going to be fighting with your friends and family about over the holidays is Senate rules . But this is the thing you're going to be fighting about. You're not going to be fighting anymore about whether or not Democrats can repeal "don't ask, don't tell," or whether they can get that nukes treaty passed, or whether they can get health care for 9/11 first responders. Those things are done. This is it. This is a big change that is suddenly possible. It's even suddenly probable. There's one day every two years when the Senate rules can be changed with just a majority vote . This year, it's the first day of the new Congress , it is January 5th . The Senate is broken but it could be fixed. You want to see our newest version of how it's broken? This represents the number of times that the Senate was forced to have a super majority devote on something -- meaning that if a majority of senators supported something, it couldn't necessarily pass. This is how the Senate broke. The spike you see in the last four years, that is the Senate breaking. Up to this point, we've heard lots of diffuse statements of support for maybe doing something about this someday. But now, all of a sudden , it is focusing like a laser on that date, January 5th . What happens that day is up to one man mostly, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid . Here's what he told me about it right before the election.
SEN. HARRY REID , MAJORITY LEADER: This has to change . It's wrong what they're doing because it's never happened before . The Republicans just this time have abused the system and it's going to have to change . We'll have to look at ways to change that because there should not be 60 votes in the Senate .
MADDOW: So, would you -- you would support efforts to change the rules around the filibuster so that there won't be a 60-vote threshold for every vote?
REID: Well, that's right, not for every vote. We're going to have to change some of the rules and I know how to do it and we're going to have to take a hard look at it.
MADDOW: I know how you to do it. That's what Senator Reid told me in October. This is what Democrats are going to be talking about between now and the start of the next Congress . The reason that you will fight about this with your friends and family over the holidays is because of the worry among Democrats that if they get rid of this 60 votes for everything rule, if they change the rules now, they will pay a price for it if and when they end up in the minority again -- because I guess Democrats might want their senators to break the Senate , too.
Here's what's about to happen: Republicans are about to take control of the House . Republicans managed to turn the Senate into a Republican stronghold even when they were in the minority there because of the way they broke that institution. So, are we going to have a Republican stronghold in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House ? Are Democrats going to give over the Congress to the Republicans or are they going to fight back and actually use the majority that they have in the Senate and not let Republicans run that House from the minority? They can do that if they change the rules on January 5th . Should they do it? OK, everybody fight . Joining us is " New York Times " columnist Gail Collins . She's author of "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present ." Hi , Gail . Nice to see you.
GAIL COLLINS, NEW YORK TIMES: I can't wait to go to Cincinnati --
COLLINS: And sit around the tree and fight about cloture.
COLLINS: You know, it's traditional to fight about cloture in most American Christian households around this time. O , filibuster. OK. So, maybe not everybody is going to fight about this. But it is -- it does seem like a big sort of structural important, who are we, are we mice or men question for Democrats , doesn't it?
COLLINS: Yes, two years ago when this sort of came up when they began their session, it was just -- nobody was interested in it. You couldn't get -- the vice president wasn't interested in it. Harry Reid wasn't interested in it. And the horribleness of the last two years really has changed beyond -- although it's still like the Merkel plan we're talking about here.
COLLINS: It's the babies that started it.
MADDOW: It is the babies that started it. It's the youngest senators that started it. And everybody keep telling me, I keep doing segments about it, I keep doing shows about it saying this is the most important thing to know about Washington . And the line that I always get from people, especially people who like me and they're trying to do me a favor, they tried to talk me out of it by saying, listen, nobody is really into this who has any power . It's all these well-meaning, idealistic senators who don't have power . Now, we've got every single Democratic senator saying they're ready to change it and Harry Reid saying, "I know how." I know how -- and they can do it on that one day. Do you think in the end, they're going to be afraid of their shadow and not do it?
COLLINS: I have a feeling they'll do something. I don't know if they'll get it as far -- the point at which you want to get it is where you really have to do a Jimmy Stewart and hang around at least and be there physically when you're doing the filibuster. If you can get there, that's huge. At least they'll get to the point where they could be more efficient about having the filibusters.
COLLINS: Because, right now, you can't even do other stuff because everything gets backlogged into these long required waiting periods. And then, of course, when you do get your bill up, the other side will be arguing that there's not enough time to debate it and therefore, it should be held over until the next year, which we've seen a lot of lately.
MADDOW: Well, do you think that -- obviously, Vice President Biden has to have a little bit of a role in this. In his role as president of the Senate on the first day of Congress , he'd have to say, yes, you guys can go ahead and vote to change the rules . There's plenty of precedent for that. It would not be a controversial decision. But the vice president does actually have to do something there. Do you think that what I imagine is the White House 's natural inclination to steer clear of an issue like this might mean that they wouldn't even go along with letting the Democrats vote?
COLLINS: I don't know. I think Biden 's kind of got his groove back right now. You know, he's feeling the power . He's ready to roll. He's like totally empowered. I could see him do it. I really could.
MADDOW: Yes. I wonder if in the bigger picture, though, if Democrats tend to get scared once they start to exert their own power , if they do start to get a little scared of their own shadow. Clearly, the Republicans in the minority in the Senate , exerted more power with that minority, more obstructionist power . They broke the institution to stop it from passing things. While in the minority have no compunction about that whatsoever. Democrats don't operate that way. They just don't have that kind of chutzpah if nothing else. And I wonder if does take a sort of soul- searching by the Democrats to decide that they really want to assert themselves.
COLLINS: Well, what they come back to all the time is the Republicans believe and a lot of Democrats believe that they're going to lose the Senate in the next election because there's tons of Democrats that are up for election, very few Republicans .
MADDOW: That's right .
COLLINS: So, do they want the possibility of totally bringing things to a screeching halt? If they're in the minority, do they want to be able to do what Jim Bunning did this time and stop a poor guy from getting to be a trade representative because you're ticked off about some Canadian law about the selling of flavored tobacco products? I mean, anything can happen. They can stop you all the time. And maybe the Democrats are thinking back in their little riveting hearts, that they might want to do that, too. Maybe they'll need to do that next time around.
MADDOW: The desire to pursue something that's almost quixotic and personal and that you don't want to have to it explain and do it nonsensically -- I can understand the entire to be able to do that, but I can't understand the desire to want to be able to do that at the expense of actually having a functioning legislature in the United States Senate . And it seems to like the argument for being -- for everybody wanting to be able to be Jim Bunning every once in a while is not a pretty weak argument.
COLLINS: Well, it's true. I'm not agreeing that it's a great argument, still, I'm arguing and it might be the way they feel.
MADDOW: It is a fun thing to fight over though over Christmas . I swear. Try it. Try it, Gail . Cincinnati is waiting for you.
COLLINS: OK. I'm good.
MADDOW: All right. Gail Collins , " New York Times " columnist and a