What about the ‘real’ filibusters?

WHAT ABOUT THE ‘REAL’ FILIBUSTERS?…. One of the more common arguments in the debate over filibusters is the fact that actual filibusters never actually happen anymore. Gone are the days in which senators would stand, reading from phone books and reciting recipes, literally talking a bill to death. If we’re not going to get rid of the tactic, can we at least discourage their frequency by making senators launch real filibusters?

Ryan Grim reports today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is well aware of these questions, and has looked into the procedure. It’s not going to happen, or more accurately, it can’t happen.

Reid’s office has studied the history of the filibuster and analyzed what options are available. The resulting memo was provided to the Huffington Post and it concludes that a filibustering Senator “can be forced to sit on the [Senate] floor to keep us from voting on that legislation for a finite period of time according to existing rules but he/she can’t be forced to keep talking for an indefinite period of time.”

Bob Dove, who worked as a Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001, knows Senate rules as well as anyone on the planet. The Reid analysis, he says, is “exactly correct.”

To get an idea of what the scene would look like on the Senate floor if Democrats tried to force Republicans to talk out a filibuster, turn on C-SPAN on any given Saturday. Hear the classical music? See the blue carpet behind the “Quorum Call” logo? That would be the resulting scene if Democrats forced a filibuster and the GOP chose not to play along.

As both Reid’s memo and Dove explain, only one Republican would need to monitor the Senate floor. If the majority party tried to move to a vote, he could simply say, “I suggest the absence of a quorum.”

The presiding officer would then be required to call the roll. When that finished, the Senator could again notice the absence of a quorum and start the process all over. At no point would the obstructing Republican be required to defend his position, read from the phone book or any of the other things people associate with the Hollywood version of a filibuster.

“You cannot force senators to talk during a filibuster,” says Dove. “Delay in the Senate is not difficult and, frankly, the only way to end it is through cloture.”

But what about some of the historic filibusters, that lasted hours upon hours? Those senators were, Dove said, “making a point.” They didn’t have to keep talking, but they did.

Good to know. Now, can we talk about getting rid of the filibuster altogether?