Democrats defend flip-flopping on 2017 pledge to preserve filibuster

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Democrats doubled down Tuesday on changing the Senate filibuster, despite authoring a 2017 letter in support of the long-established 60-vote threshold for certain legislation.

In 2017, 61 senators penned a bipartisan letter to then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging them to preserve the filibuster as a way to promote bipartisanship and maintain the Senate as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Pressed Tuesday at a news conference on whether they were hypocrites for now urging a rollback of the filibuster, Democrats said much has changed in the nearly five years since that letter, citing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to stop the certification of President Biden’s electoral college win. 

“That letter was written before one of the largest efforts in the history of this country to disenfranchise voters,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Tuesday. “It wasn’t just an attack on Jan. 6. It was for a particular purpose to disenfranchise 80 million people. This Senate hardly is worth the name Senate if it’s unwilling to respond to something like that.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., center, joined from left by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also said much is different since she signed the letter in 2017, including the GOP’s “tyranny” of continually using the filibuster, the “violent attempt” to overthrow the 2020 election and efforts in places like Michigan and elsewhere to “literally take away people’s freedom to vote.”

“We were not where we are today,” Stabenow said of 2017.

Schumer, who also once fiercely defended the filibuster, is leading the charge in the Senate this week to change the chamber rules to pass sweeping voting rights legislation with a simple majority vote.  

He set a deadline of Jan. 17 — the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday — to take a vote on rolling back the legislative filibuster. Schumer wants a carve out to the filibuster to pass voting rights reforms by a simple majority that would set national standards for running elections.

Republicans are squarely against changing the rules for voting reforms they view as radical and a federal overreach. They’ve accused Democrats of trying to break the Senate by upending the 60-vote tradition.

But Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Democrats aren’t trying to do away with the filibuster completely, just modify it in a way that’s “fair.”

“I think it’s good for bipartisanship and I think it’s essential for the country,” said Tester, who also signed the 2017 letter. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., waits to speak during an event to mark one year since the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 6, 2022.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

In 2017, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Chris Coons, D-Del., led the letter urging Senate leadership to preserve the legislative filibuster. As it’s existed for decades, the filibuster requires 60 votes in order to end debate on a bill and proceed to a final vote. 

Of that group, 27 Democratic signatories still hold federal elected office, including 26 in the Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also signed that letter in 2017. On Tuesday, she called out Democrats’ hypocrisy.

“Here you are today with them eating their words,” she said. 

Fox News’ Tyler Olson contributed to this report. 

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