Former Vice President Walter Mondale was still a senator from Minnesota when he played a key role in fundamentally changing the way the Congress legislates — and how its members can filibuster.
"It was around 1975, the rules were being abused. There was a wizard from Alabama in [Sen.] Jim Allen who was blocking everything [with the filibuster], so some of us were looking into changing the rules — and I led the fight to reduce the number of votes needed to block debate from 67 to 60," he said.
Alongside then Sen. James Pearson, R-Kansas, he invoked the constitutional option and insisted that a 60 percent vote ought to be enough to make a change to the Senate's rules and procedures. His colleagues agreed.
"The clear letter of the Constitution confers upon a majority of the House and the Senate to draw its own rules," Mondale said. "We're not paralyzed by God, we're paralyzed by temporary rules by a sitting Senate that wants to operate this way."
This isn't the first time Mondale has spoken publicly about the need for updating the filibuster rules. He went before a Senate Rules Committee hearing in 2010 and has written op-eds out of more recent congressional filibuster angst, urging today's senators to follow his lead and change the rules again.
Now, Senate Democrats want to change that requirement to a simple majority — 51 votes. They cite unending stalemates with their Republican colleagues at the heart of the issue. Today's proposed rule change would limit the use of the filibuster when confirming cabinet and other presidential appointments. Republicans have filibustered several Obama administration appointees, but are upset by the possible move to limit the filibuster — which they say could change the very nature of the chamber.
"What's really happened is we've become such a divided, partisan nation, so now everything is being filibustered, literally everything," Mondale said. He calls today's Senate a "60-vote body," saying a single person can stall movement at any juncture.
That's why, he said, the filibuster rules need to change.
"I still would like to keep some of the filibuster. I think the Senate should be different from the House. I'm looking for that mysterious line between requiring debate and consultation on the one hand and paralysis on the other hand," he said. "What we clearly have today is paralysis. And by the way, there's no debating, either. And that's wrong, I think."
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