Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued Thursday that Democrats were justified in filibustering legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate during the last session of Congress – a tactic that some in the party now seek to abolish – because Republicans refused to engage in bipartisan negotiations.
Several Democratic lawmakers have signaled they would support an effort to remove the 60-vote threshold required to pass legislation, even as Republicans warn of total legislative gridlock if they proceed. When asked why the Democrats once used the filibuster to similar effect, Schumer blamed tactics employed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when the Republicans held the majority.
"The big difference is that we were always willing to negotiate in a bipartisan way," Schumer said at a press conference. "Mitch McConnell isn’t. The bills he puts on the floor, even when he calls them bipartisan, aren’t, like the first CARES bill, like the policing bill. There’s no discussion, no discussion."
President Biden pledged to work with Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation as part of his call for unity upon entering the White House. However, the Democrat-controlled Senate roiled GOP leadership earlier this year after they utilized special budget reconciliation rules to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan with a simple majority vote.
McConnell has warned of a "scorched-earth Senate" if Democrats attempt to end use of the filibuster. In a floor speech earlier this week, the Kentucky senator argued that Democrats used the same tactic to detail a GOP-backed police reform bill following the death of George Floyd last May.
"The Democratic side just spent four years defending and happily using the same Senate rule that many of our colleagues now attack," McConnell said. "This reversal isn’t about principle. Just raw power."
Even with an effective majority, the Democrats face a difficult path to pass desired reforms, such as an overhaul of gun control and voting rights laws.
Schumer said he was "encouraging my colleagues to sit down with Republicans" to find common ground on legislation. However, the majority leader warned that he would be open to changing filibuster rules if bipartisan talks failed to yield progress.
"As I said, we need big, bold action, and we will figure out the best way to go," Schumer said. "Everything’s on the table. That’s all I’m going to say to you."