“In 1805, fresh off the duel where he killed Alexander Hamilton, Vice President Aaron Burr returned to the Senate and proposed streamlining the body’s rules by eliminating something called the “previous question motion,” a process that was rarely invoked in the early years of the Senate.
As Sarah Binder, a Brookings Institution expert on Congress and a professor at George Washington University, explained in 2010 testimony to the Senate Rules Committee, Burr’s intent was to produce a “cleaner rule book” that wasn’t too thick with duplicative procedures. And he thought the previous question motion was the kind of superfluous rule that could be eliminated.
Unfortunately for the nation, the previous question motion wasn’t the least bit superfluous. This motion turned out to be the only way to force the Senate to move off a particular topic. When the Senate took up Burr on his call, it allowed senators to lock the Senate into endless, pointless debate — halting progress even if a majority of the Senate wished to move forward to a vote.
The filibuster was born.
Since then, the rules permitting filibusters have been changed many times — and with increasing frequency.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson successfully urged the Senate to create a process, known as “cloture,” which would allow a two-thirds majority of the Senate to break a filibuster and bring a matter to the Senate for a final vote. The number of votes necessary to end a filibuster, whether on a piece of legislation or on a confirmation vote, was reduced to three-fifths of the Senate (ordinarily 60 votes ) in 1975.
In the 1970s, Congress created a process known as “budget reconciliation,” which allows many taxing and spending bills to become law with a simple majority vote, bypassing the filibuster. In 1996, Congress enacted the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn recent federal agency regulations without having to deal with the filibuster.
And in the present-day Senate, filibuster reforms have been enacted fairly often. In 2011, a narrow Senate majority voted to strip away some of the minority’s power to force votes on amendments to a bill. In 2013, the Senate enacted a temporary measure that limited the minority’s ability to delay confirmation votes once the Senate agreed to end debate on a particular nominee, and a version of this rule was made permanent in 2019 (though nothing is truly permanent because a future Senate could always change this rule again). The Senate voted to allow non-Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority vote in 2013, and it voted to allow Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by a simple majority in 2017.
Indeed, this brief account of the filibuster’s history drastically undersells how often Congress creates exceptions. In her book Exceptions to the Rule: The Politics of Filibuster Limitations in the US Senate, the Brookings Institution’s Molly Reynolds writes that “a careful review of the historical record has identified 161” provisions of law that prevent “some future piece of legislation from being filibustered on the floor of the Senate.” This includes legislation fast-tracking votes on trade negotiations, expediting votes on military base closures, and allowing Congress to bypass the filibuster for certain regulatory and budgetary matters.”
“there are four broad ways that senators can weaken the filibuster without eliminating it altogether.”
“Make fewer bills subject to the filibuster”
“Reduce the power of individual rogue senators: The Senate could make it harder to initiate a filibuster. Right now, unanimous consent is required to hold a vote without invoking the time-consuming cloture process. But the rules could be changed to allow an immediate vote unless a larger bloc of senators — perhaps two or five or 10 — objected to such a vote, instead of just one.”
“Make it easier to break a filibuster”
“Reduce or eliminate the time it takes to invoke cloture: The Senate could reduce the amount of time necessary to invoke cloture and conduct a final vote. This could be done by allowing a swifter vote on a cloture petition, by reducing or eliminating the time devoted to post-closure debate, or both.”
“The legislation says any interactive computer service provider—that means social media giants, small blogs, podcast hosting services, app stores, consumer review platforms, independent political forums, crowdfunding and Patreon-style sites, dating apps, newsletter services, and much more—will lose Section 230 protections if they fail to report any known user activity that might be deemed “suspicious.”
“Suspicious” content is defined as any post, private message, comment, tag, transaction, or “any other user-generated content or transmission” that government officials later determine “commits, facilitates, incites, promotes, or otherwise assists the commission of a major crime.” Major crimes are defined as anything involving violence, domestic, or international terrorism, or a “serious drug offense.”
For each suspicious post, services must submit a Suspicious Transmission Activity Report (STAR) within 30 days, providing the user’s name, location, and other identifying information, as well as any relevant metadata.
Those submitting the user surveillance reports would henceforth be barred from talking about or even acknowledging the existence of them. STARs would also be exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
The bill, which comes amid renewed calls to stamp out domestic terrorism after the Capitol riot, is impressive in managing to be both completely invasive and utterly unconcerned with even appearing to be about protection, since the remedy—report within 30 days—would hardly help stop the commission of crimes”
“The bill would set up a massive new system of intense user monitoring and reporting that would lead to more perfectly innocent people getting booted from internet platforms. It would provide the government with a new tool to punish disfavored tech companies, and it would enlist all digital service providers to be cops in the failed post-9/11 war on terror and the drug war.”
“Worse than simply overloading the system, it would make federal agents investigate all sorts of ordinary Americans for harmless comments. It also seems likely to make finding actual terrorists and violent criminals even more difficult.”
“If you’re a corrupt foreign official or drug trafficker, there’s a pretty easy way to protect your illicit cash: create an anonymous shell company.
You form a shell company — meaning a business that exists only on paper, with no employees, no products it makes or sells, no revenue, nothing except maybe a bank account and some assets — but you do it without disclosing your (the owner’s) real name, offering a convenient way to launder your money and evade law enforcement in the United States.
Except that might now be a lot harder to do in the US. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the $741 billion defense bill, will effectively ban anonymous shell companies.
The NDAA passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Trump vetoed the package, but Congress voted overwhelmingly to override the president’s veto for the first time during Trump’s tenure.
That means that now, when someone opens a shell corporation, they’ll be required to provide the owner’s name and some basic identifying information. This simple step will give law enforcement and national security officials a powerful tool to crack down on corruption.”
“The bill would prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at every level while banning chokeholds at the federal level and no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. The federal policies would be tied to law enforcement funding for governments at the state and local levels.
The measure would also eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, mandate data collection on police encounters and create a nationwide police misconduct registry to hold accountable problematic officers who are fired or leave an agency.”
“the bill’s fate in the upper chamber is still uncertain, as Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to send the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk.”
“The GOP bill requires additional disclosures about the use of force, codifies reporting requirements on the use of “no knock warrants,” provides incentives for chokehold bans and makes lynching a federal crime.
The Democratic proposal, led in the Senate by Booker and Harris, would ban chokeholds and no knock warrants in federal drug cases. It would also limit qualified immunity for police officers to make it easier to sue police — something Democrats argue is key to holding police officers accountable for misconduct, but which most Republicans won’t consider.”