The consequential truth about Senate rules and practice that neither political Party will publicly explain and our Free Press ignores

I sincerely hope that there are enough American citizens, enough members of our national media, and, most importantly today, enough United States Senators remaining – long-time incumbents and newly-elected alike – who appreciate, and care enough to fight to preserve, the irreplaceable role in our self-governing Republic of a public, deliberative legislative body that democratically creates the laws under which we live. I further hope that enough Americans take heed of these rarely-reported, but unavoidable and pivotal truths about our federal Senate, before the egalitarian Senate, like the House before it, devolves into a barren, backroom-run Party dictatorship that effectively closes the Senate Chamber even to its elected members. [If anyone thinks that’s an exaggeration, please tune in to the House Chamber, and the Speaker-run House Rules Committee, more often. As a direct result of past Party-driven House rule changes, when the House Chamber’s seats are soon filled for the President’s State of the Union address, it will be one of only a handful of days a year when that mostly-empty and sparsely-lit legislative Chamber now ever sees its membership, or even a significant minority thereof, seated together there for any purpose whatsoever, never mind for public legislating.]

The Senate is the last federal legislative body whose longstanding, time-tested default rules – as distinct from its current, corrupt Party practices – still provide for a deliberative, democratic legislative forum at the federal level, despite the destructive and secretive way in which the Senate is now operated by the political Parties. Dishonest partisan claims about the Senate rules are rampant, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between the default simple-majority Senate rules (and accompanying live floor) feared by the Parties, and the 1917-created optional supermajority cloture rule that both Parties now favor – by their actions, if not by their words – in lieu of non-cloture order.

I also hope that there are enough independent-thinking Americans left to ask why, if Senate “rule reform” proponents are acting in good faith and in the best interests of the Senate and nation, these basic facts about our national legislature have been, without challenge by the media, so egregiously omitted, misstated, repeatedly twisted into half-truths, or otherwise abused by them, to obvious Party advantage, at the expense of the nonpartisan Senate itself. In addition to prominent partisan members of the media and others, I’m referring to incumbent federal legislators – in particular, of late, Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Tom Harkin of Iowa – who claim to be proponents of fair Senate “reform” – yet somehow manage to assign no blame to their own majority Party for the current dysfunctional state of the Senate. These reformers and their promoters seem to take care never to define exactly what they mean by the word “filibuster,” for example, in terms precise enough to be compared to the actual rules of the Senate. (I’d like to at least credit one or two of these Senators for acting with good intentions, but their longstanding, unwavering Party-protecting refusal to tell the whole truth about the Senate’s present realities makes that difficult.)

The present, indisputable Senate dysfunction, I think any fair, honest diagnosis of the procedural cause(s) would find, is due to the ongoing two-Party abuse of Senate “quorum call” practice; the current majority Party’s record use of the supermajority cloture motion rule in the absence of debating filibusters (yes, the majority Democrats have voluntarily imposed that supermajority rule on themselves for fear of a live Senate floor, as further explained below, and at greater length elsewhere); the very destructive blocking of legislative floor deliberation by Majority Leader Reid’s abusive filling of the procedural amendment “tree,” or chart, with nonsense amendments (to avoid being “blindsided,” as Reid calls democratic floor amending); and to other Party practices that short-change or end-run regular parliamentary procedure – such as, to quote from December remarks by Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, the fact that “we have seen rule XIV used to bypass committee work nearly 70 times in the last 6 years.” (I assume that I don’t need to spell out why partisan Senators of a self-serving Party minority do not voluntarily speak up to point out to the public and media that the Senate’s default rules provide for simple-majority order, even as the majority Party continues to regularly displace those default rules with an optional supermajority cloture rule…)

The two national fundraising organizations known as Parties demand that our federal representatives ‘play for pay’ in the widely-despised but media-fed “team sport” of raw Party power grabs that now dominates our federal House and Senate. To their discredit, almost all of our federal representatives agree to “play” for their “teams,” when it matters most to Party leadership, in the name of job security or for fear of ‘rocking the boat.’ (“Independent” Bernie Sanders and veteran Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad most definitely included. It was now-retired Conrad who used the term “team sport” while lamenting on his way out of the Senate what Congress has become, and yet Conrad, at Party direction, for years obediently prevented his own committee from acting on a Senate budget as required by law – Party direction that apparently originated across the “separated-power” dividing line in the White House.) We, however – unlike, dangerously, most of our national media organizations via political campaign advertising – aren’t receiving Party perks or pay-offs, and can and should tell the truth about what’s being done, or not being done, in our names in Congress.

Lewis Lapham quoting an 1838 James Fenimore Cooper description of the forthright conduct that we should all insist our public servants demonstrate in such a debate:

“[T]he conviction of the necessity of speaking truth, when speaking at all; a contempt for all designing evasions of our real opinions. In all the general concerns, the public has a right to be treated with candor.

So, once more with feeling, these are some of the truths that Party loyalists don’t want to hear, and will not speak:


1. The Senate’s default, regular-order rules, largely unchanged since the first day of its existence, provide for (“Constitutional”) simple-majority passage of legislation and nominations – and of Senate rule changes (after brief notice has been given) on any day that the Senate’s in session – and always have. Filibusters – that is, real, debating filibusters, which have mostly ceased to exist (due to Party practices, not to Senate rule changes) – generally can only delay to varying degrees, but not defeat, the simple-majority will of the Senate when the majority Party allows the Senate’s regular, default order to operate.

The opening paragraph, on Page 1217 [PDF Page 1 of 12], of the “Rules” PDF of Riddick’s Senate Procedure:

The Senate has readopted or made only seven general revisions of its rules since 1789 – on March 26, 1806; January 3, 1820; February 14, 1828; March 25, 1868; January 17, 1877; January 11, 1884; and November 14, 1979. The rules of the Senate, however, are subject to amendment at any time and have been amended regularly in part in most, if not in all, Congresses since 1884, and on occasions several times in the same Congress.

So when majority Party Senator Tom Udall says, as he did again yesterday on the Senate floor, that there should be no “tyranny of the minority” in the Senate, he is stating not what should be in the Senate’s default rules, but what is already provided for in those rules – just as the Founders advised. The question for Tom Udall that the media never asks is why his Party has effectively abandoned those default simple-majority Senate rules, in favor of the optional 1917 supermajority cloture rule, despite the absence of debating filibusters… (Hint: it has something to do with 30-second campaign commercials, and the unseen lobbyist horde that’s allowed to swarm Capitol Hill.)

Furthermore, until the 1917 creation of the Senate’s optional “cloture motion” rule (part of Rule XXII) – at the insistence of a president and media determined to engage the United States in the World War despite a principled minority of Senate opposition – no other rule could displace the default simple-majority Senate rules, and only a real, strenuous debating filibuster could delay them (as that principled Senate minority very briefly delayed the Senate in 1917 with an all-night debating filibuster).

Here’s one of those minority of Senators, speaking in the Senate with both great hindsight, and great foresight, twenty years after his efforts failed to prevent our entry into WWI, as he remembered the 1917 filibuster that he helped conduct at the close of a session of Congress (transcribed from the Congressional Record).

Senator George Norris of Nebraska (Progressive Republican, then Independent in 1936), speaking in the Senate on April 27, 1938:

I suppose no living man can tell with any accuracy just what would have happened [if we had stayed out of the World War]. We are all entitled to our guess.

It seems to me that, if we had stayed out of the war, we in America, the Federal Government should have been able to step in at a time when there was no victory in sight for either side, and help to make a peace which would have been an honorable one, instead of the dishonorable peace which was made by the Treaty of Versailles. That, of course, is conjecture.


We should not have had more than 100,000 graves of soldiers killed in the war, the cream of American citizenship.

We should not have had thousands of our citizens sleeping the eternal sleep under the poppies of France.


We should not have had the vast accumulation we now have of the wealth of the country, the lifeblood of the country, within the hands of a comparatively few men.


I cannot think of a single thing we got out of the World War that was good, or that helped civilization. Our participation in the war tied our hands so that we were unable to help make a peace which would have been honorable, upon which the warring nations could have based a treaty of justice and fairness.


Mr. President, whether or not anybody but myself believes the statement, I venture the assertion that it was the people of this country who went wild; that Congress would not have declared war if it had not been for the people back home, moved by propaganda spread all over the land, much of it false, nearly all of it false and unfounded, much of it exaggeration; that from home came the demand that we go into the war.

In the contest which took place here less than 2 months before we declared war, when the proposal to arm the ships of the merchant marine was killed by a filibuster, I know that while the filibuster was going on word was brought in secret to the filibusterers, from those who took part in trying to pass the bill, encouraging the filibusterers to keep on. I myself had something to do with the managment of the filibuster, and with keeping Senators here during that long, weary night, ready to take the floor at a moment’s notice. I was visited by Members who were opposed to the position we were taking who secretly said to me, “For God’s sake, do not stop the filibuster.” When Senators came to me secretly urging that the filibuster be continued, I told them that what we needed was Senators to speak and occupy the floor. I said that it did not make any difference which side of the question they were on; if they would take up the time of the Senate they would help the filibuster; and at least two Members of this body, of as high standing as any other Members of the Senate at that time, assisted in the filibuster by making speeches on the other side. They came to me and said, “I cannot withstand the pressure from home. It means political death, it means political extermination if I do not continue in my present course.” Some of them admitted that they thought they could at last see that they were wrong, but they said they could not withstand the awful propaganda which went over the country urging them to push us into the fight.

It was not Members of Congress who were wholly to blame for that step, regrettable as I think it was. It was the men and the women at home who were pushing them on, who were threatening them with destruction if they did not vote right on the matter. That is one of the reasons why we went into the war; and I have enumerated some of the things we have that we would not have had if we had stayed out.

I believe there is greater cause now for building a large navy than there was then; there is more reason now why there should be additional preparedness than there was then, because there are some outlaw nations in the world who respect nothing on earth but power. They have no respect for honor. They have no respect for their word. They do not hesitate to go into war if they are not afraid of meeting opposition which they cannot overcome.

Please remember the words of Senator George Norris (who helped to genuinely reform both the House and the Senate during his decades of legislative service) the next time you hear Dick Durbin or Jeff Merkley or any other Senator echo the poison-pen rhetoric of 1917 newspaper editors, by demeaning and belittling the honorable efforts of a courageous Senate minority who simply asked this nation to question the wisdom of entering WWI’s bloody quagmire.

To underscore the principled concerns of Senator Norris, this information helps to illustrate how carefully our Congress considered what it was doing when it declared war to please President Woodrow Wilson:

Just after the United States entered the war in April 1917, an official from the War Department testified before Congress about what the military would need to fight the war. When he announced, almost as an afterthought, that “we may have to have an army in France,” the chair of the Senate Finance Committee declared, “Good Lord! You’re not going to send soldiers over there, are you?” Many in Congress and the public had believed that America’s participation in the war would require little more than sending arms to Europe. But what began as an almost charming display of naiveté rapidly became the subject of bitter dispute.

When President Wilson finally proposed a draft, the Speaker of the House declared that “there is precious little difference between a conscript and a convict.” Though the conscription bill eventually passed, opposition to military service remained widespread. Roughly three million men evaded the draft, and as many as sixty percent of the men who registered may have requested exemptions from fighting.


Financing the war was also contentious. While progressives persuaded Wilson of the need to tax wealthy interests in order to fund the war, their efforts were thwarted by industrialists and corporations, leading California Senator Hiram Johnson to complain, “Our endeavors to impose heavy war profit taxes have brought into sharp relief the skin-deep dollar patriotism of some of those who have been loudest in declamations on war and in their demands for blood.”


2. The problem with the Senate’s default, simple-majority, regular-order rules, as the political Parties see it (and as the media ought to realize and report), is that the Senate Chamber must be “live” for its default rules and regular order to obtain. “Live” meaning open for the public transaction of the people’s business by any and every Senator, so long as a Constitutionally-mandated quorum of Senators is present in the Chamber when required. (Something that the corrupt Party/campaign fundraising system is obviously being allowed to actively interfere with.)

I probably need to point out here, for the vast majority of Americans who never tune in to the Senate, thanks in large part to its routinely idled, suspended state, that when our Senate is “in session” today, there is almost never a quorum (a majority), or even a handful of Senators present in the Chamber to hear their colleague(s) speak, when an occasional speech is made. Generally the only time Senators today visit the Chamber together is when a roll call vote is being held. Accountability-shy Senators may well want to preserve and continue this practice, but the question is whether we, the people they represent, ought to approve of it, or even to encourage it by helping Senators Reid, Udall & Merkley, et al, attempt to make it permanent under the guise of “filibuster reform” (because that is one absolutely foreseeable and almost inevitable end result of their efforts to make the optional 1917 cloture rule, in one form or another, the new default procedural rule of the Senate).

To solve that Senator-perceived, or Party-perceived, “problem” of the need to be present – and, today, visible on television – in the Senate Chamber when the Senate’s in session, and to actually publicly debate colleagues of all Party persuasions about public business, the Parties over several decades have increasingly promoted the abuse of a practice (not a rule) that has itself now contributed to a real crisis in the operation (not the rules) of the Senate. That crisis is a predictable result of that practice’s pernicious side effects on floor proceedings when paired with the optional use (and abuse) of the 1917-created cloture motion rule. That Party practice consists of suspending the live Senate floor with a make-believe Quorum Call, which is a pretend substitute for the calling of Constitutionally-mandated quorums before the transaction of Senate business. It’s a practice that is almost certainly “out of order” under the rules and precedents of the Senate, but that both Parties have taken care not to challenge or to enforce those rules against, in order to enable them to continue to conduct the most important Senate business off the floor, out of public view.

A quorum call must be completed and the Chair announce the presence of a quorum in order for it to constitute a quorum call which requires the transaction of business before another quorum call can be suggested; when a quorum call is vitiated by unanimous consent before it is completed it is not a quorum call. [1982 precedent, informed by 1967 practice]
Riddick’s Senate Procedure, Page 1075

The make-believe Quorum Call is a “Fake Quorum Call” that’s designed not to call the quorum, but simply to suspend (in lieu of recessing) the live, public Senate floor most of the time that the Senate is now “in session” – preventing the transaction of business not pre-screened in private by the Parties. Under the Senate precedent cited above, the Fake Quorum Call is in fact not a “quorum call” (though you never hear C-SPAN or other Party-beholden observers note that), since a quorum call has to come to a conclusion to actually count as a quorum call, and the Fake Quorum Call, by design, never does come to a conclusion (instead it’s repeatedly lifted by unanimous consent and then dutifully re-imposed) – except on very rare occasions when the Majority Leader quietly signals the Senate staff that it should be lifted, and the Clerk in fact proceeds to call the full roll in a genuine quorum call, as here:

[Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin.] Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum. [As Senators say, now routinely, before leaving the Chamber after finishing a speech.]

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will [pretend to] call the roll.

The assistant editor of the Daily Digest proceeded to [pretend to] call the roll.

[Then, sometime later, the silence (or C-SPAN2 background music) is broken:]

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. I object. [Johnson was briefly making a point about another matter by objecting to the normally-routine lifting of the Fake Quorum Call that allows a Senator to speak.]

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Franken). Objection is heard.

Mr. SESSIONS. I thank the Chair.

[Here the Fake Quorum Call is invisibly and unilaterally transformed – no unanimous consent required – by the Democratic Majority Leader (with an unseen signal to the Senate Clerk/Parliamentarian at just about 6:00 p.m.) into a rare real quorum call (making it, under Senate precedents, an actual “quorum call”). When officially lacking a Constitutionally-required quorum, the Senate must round up a quorum of Senators – which Reid soon makes a motion to do – or adjourn):]

The assistant bill clerk continued with the call of the roll, and the following Senators entered the Chamber and answered to their names:






Johnson (WI)


The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. A quorum is not present. The clerk will call the names of absent Senators.

The bill clerk resumed the call of the roll.

Mr. REID. Madam President, I move that the Sergeant at Arms be instructed to request the attendance of absent Senators, and I ask for the yeas and nays.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Casey). Is there a sufficient second? There is a sufficient second.

The question is on agreeing to the motion of the Senator from Nevada. The yeas and nays are ordered and the clerk will call the roll.

The bill clerk called the roll.

Mr. REID. I announce that the Senator from Illinois (Mr. Durbin), the Senator from California (Mrs. Feinstein), the Senator from Hawaii (Mr. Inouye), the Senator from Wisconsin (Mr. Kohl), the Senator from Missouri (Mrs. McCaskill), the Senator from Nebraska (Mr. Nelson), the Senator from Arkansas (Mr. Pryor), the Senator from West Virginia (Mr. Rockefeller), the Senator from New Mexico (Mr. Udall), the Senator from Virginia (Mr. Webb), and the Senator from South Dakota (Mr. Johnson) are necessarily absent.

Mr. McCONNELL. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the Senator from Missouri (Mr. Blunt), the Senator from Georgia (Mr. Chambliss), the Senator from Oklahoma (Mr. Coburn), the Senator from Illinois (Mr. Kirk), and the Senator from Arizona (Mr. Kyl).

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Bennet). Are there any other Senators in the Chamber desiring to vote?

The result was announced–yeas 44, nays 40, as follows:


The motion was agreed to.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. With the addition of Senators voting who did not answer the quorum call, a quorum is present.


3. Rule 22‘s 1917 supermajority cloture motion is now often misleadingly referred to as the “filibuster rule,” and that rule is the optional Senate rule that has been invoked a record “391” times by the signatures of majority Democrats on cloture petitionsnot by the signatures of minority Republicans – which is an inconvenient, damning truth that Senators Reid and Udall and Merkley and Harkin (and, apparently, the national media) will carefully never explain to their uninformed or misinformed listeners.

In general, the Senate operates on the foundation of unlimited debate. This principle is fundamental to the right to filibuster. Senate rules do not specifically permit filibusters; rather, extended debate is possible in the absence of debate restrictions.
Martin Gold, “Senate Procedure and Practice,” Page 44

Here’s a very typical example of one of those 391 Democratic cloture motions (typical except for the fact that Vice President Biden at the time was briefly presiding over the Senate on one of his very infrequent visits to the Chamber of which he’s President):

Mr. REID. I now move to proceed to Calendar No. 470, S. 3414.

The VICE PRESIDENT. The clerk will report.

The bill clerk read as follows:

Motion to proceed to Calendar No. 470, S. 3414, a bill to enhance the security and resiliency of the cyber and communications infrastructure of the United States.


Mr. REID. Mr. President, I have a cloture motion which has been filed at the desk and I ask that it be reported.

The VICE PRESIDENT. The cloture motion having been presented under rule XXII, the Chair directs the clerk to read the motion.

The bill clerk read as follows:

Cloture Motion

We, the undersigned Senators, in accordance with the provisions of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate, hereby move to bring to a close debate on the motion to proceed to calendar No. 470, S. 3414, a bill to enhance the security and resiliency of the cyber and communications infrastructure of the United States.

Harry Reid, Joseph I. Lieberman, John D. Rockefeller IV, Dianne Feinstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, Barbara A. Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, Jeff Bingaman, Patty Murray, Max Baucus, Charles E. Schumer, Bill Nelson, Christopher A. Coons, Tom Udall, Carl Levin, Mark R. Warner, Ben Nelson.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I now ask unanimous consent that the mandatory quorum under rule XXII be waived.

The VICE PRESIDENT. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Note that this is the process that Jeff Merkley refers to, complete with visual aids, as Senator Reid “seeing” a Republican “filibuster” (“391” times, to be precise, as compared to Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson’s “1” time over the same number of years). But Harry Reid is constantly “seeing” 16 Democratic colleagues act to invoke the optional supermajority cloture rule, at his direction, only because Reid will not lift the Fake Quorum Call that’s holding the default simple-majority Senate rules in abeyance – nor will any other Senator, including Merkley, challenge that out-of-order practice which alone absurdly forces unanimous consent to be received for almost anything the Senate does. Whereas, without the Fake Quorum Call in place, when Reid made his motion to proceed to the cybersecurity legislation, the floor would be open for debate on his motion, under the default rules of the Senate. And if no one then rose to actually debate, or to make another motion, the Presiding Officer would be obliged (see precedent below) to put the question – in this case the motion to proceed – to a simple-majority vote of the Senate. No unanimous consent, nor invoking of the optional supermajority cloture rule/cloture delay, needed:

“When a question is pending, and a Senator addressing the Chair concludes his address to the question, and no one immediately seeks recognition, it is the duty of the Chair to state the pending question to the Senate.” Riddick’s Senate Procedure

Senator Reid’s record abuse of the optional cloture motion (paired with “filling the tree” to block floor amending), in the absence of debating filibusters, is made possible because the cloture motion rule was unwisely made into a tempting tool of abuse for future unscrupulous majority Party bosses by a 1975 rule change that lowered the threshold for passage of a Rule XXII cloture motion – triggered by the signatures of 16 Senators on a cloture petition – from 67 to 60. The temptation to abuse the optional cloture rule (with its ability to override regular order and manipulate the use of the Senate floor) is heightened when coupled with the Party-favored abuse of the Fake Quorum Call practice, which, again, suspends routine floor action and – unlike the Senate’s default rules – perversely prevents the offering of floor amendments (or the conducting of any other Senate business) absent unanimous consent – or the lone say-so of the Senate Majority Leader (who can unilaterally lift the Fake Quorum Call on his own, as illustrated above). [If Senator Merkley wants to quote Federalist 22 (Hamilton) and Federalist 58 (Madison) at us about the dangers of supermajorities, as he did yesterday, this is the corrupt practice he should be citing as in need of reform, along with his own Party’s parallel, voluntary abuse of Rule 22. Because, in fact, I heartily agree with Merkley when he says that no one – or in the case of the Fake Quorum Call, nothing – should be able to “paralyze this body in secret.”]

By dishonestly conflating the optional supermajority cloture rule, as repeatedly invoked by majority Democrats under Senator Reid, with the Senate’s default simple-majority rules, and pretending that the Fake Quorum Call practice is somehow inevitable or permanent, Senator Merkley yesterday falsely “explained” that, because there’s no ‘previous question’ motion in the Senate (which he and Reid evidently hope to transform Rule XXII into), when none of the 100 Senators “has anything left to say,” someone has to ask for [and receive] unanimous consent” (Merkley claimed) to put the pending question to a vote of the Senate (which, obviously, would permit one Senator to object and prevent a vote). Except that is simply and absolutely not true: The default Senate rules and precedents clearly require the Presiding Officer to put the pending question to a vote of the Senate whenever debate ceases and no other motion is made – as explained in greater detail here and here. (This process can be clearly seen when – with the Fake Quorum Call lifted – the Senate is working on amendments to legislation and no one asks for a roll call vote. Voice votes are the result of the Presiding Officer putting the question to the Senate in the absence of debate or a very rare obstructive debating filibuster.)


4. That’s the modern Backrom Senate – made possible, so far, only by the increasing abuse of the unchallenged Fake Quorum Call practice, that now prevents the live Senate floor and its 200-year-old simple-majority default rules from operating as designed and intended. And the Backroom Senate is what would be institutionalized in the worst possible way, perhaps permanently – without even a full debate, through a despicable violation of existing rules designed simply to prevent that full debate and an anticipated minority-filed cloture petition – if Merkley and Reid and Udall and Harkin (not to forget Carl Levin, who’s very much in the mix here somewhere) get their way regarding Rule XXII.

It’s important to realize that the rule-violating (“nuclear”) method of “changing” Senate rules that “reform” proponents advocate is based in large part on the false premise that the Senate’s default rules do not allow for simple-majority “Constitutional” rule changes. Which is simply untrue, as explained above – although a cloture motion may now be filed, as those Senators well-know and anticipate, which was not the case before 1917, and that cloture motion would require 67 votes to invoke cloture (to bring debate on a rule change to a close) before it could replace the Senate’s default, if FQCall-suspended, order. Furthermore, such a gross abuse of Senate rules would – for the first time in the Senate’s existence – throw every Senate rule since the Senate’s founding out the door at the beginning of each new Congress every two years. Any time, throughout its history – on any day of the year – that the Senate has decided to change its rules, that change has remained in effect unless and until that specific rule was changed again in future. “Rule reform” proponents would override two centuries of precedent in their effort to increase the (already-abused) power of their majority Party, and force Senate rules to be reconstituted en masse every two years in future.

Senate Standing Rule V:

1. No motion to suspend, modify, or amend any rule, or any part thereof, shall be in order, except on one day’s notice in writing, specifying precisely the rule or part proposed to be suspended, modified, or amended, and the purpose thereof. Any rule may be suspended without notice by the unanimous consent of the Senate, except as otherwise provided by the rules.

2. The rules of the Senate shall continue from one Congress to the next Congress unless they are changed as provided in these rules.

From Page 935 [PDF Page 2 of 4] of the “Motions” PDF of Riddick’s Senate Procedure:

“A motion directing the Chair to put to the Senate without further debate the consideration of a resolution to change the rules under his [so-called -pow wow] constitutional right to get a vote on changing the rules at the opening of a new Congress [by first dissolving or violating the carried-over rules of the preceding Senate -pow wow] is not in order.”

As Tom Udall himself made quite clear yesterday, he’s more than happy to have the vital public debates of our Senate conducted in private off-the-record Party caucuses – evidenced by the fact that Udall comfortably informed us from the floor that he anticipated “a lively debate in our caucus” Tuesday among Democratic Senators about the future of the Senate. Out of sight and sound of both the public, and the rest of Udall’s Senate colleagues – rather than in the public Senate Chamber whose whole purpose is to host such debates about important, national public policy, including those about the procedures of the nonpartisan, self-governing Senate itself.

Now, Vice President Adlai Stevenson spoke [in 1897] as follows [in his farewell address to the Senate, over which he’d presided]:

It must not be forgotten that the rules governing this body are founded deep in human experience; that they are the result of centuries of tireless effort in legislative hall, to conserve, to render stable and secure, the rights and liberties which have been achieved by conflict. By its rules the Senate wisely fixes the limits to its own power. Of those who clamor against the Senate, and its methods of procedure, it may be truly said: ‘They know not what they do.’ In this Chamber alone are preserved, without restraint, two essentials of wise legislation and of good government–the right of amendment and of debate.


Great evils often result from hasty legislation; rarely from the delay which follows full discussion and deliberation. In my humble judgment, the historic Senate–preserving the unrestricted right of amendment and of debate, maintaining intact the time-honored parliamentary methods and amenities which unfailingly secure action after deliberation–possesses in our scheme of government a value which can not be measured by words.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Senator Robert Byrd, October 2, 1992 [Item 45 for 10/2/1992]

(Next post in this category »») »

« («« Previous post in this category)

Permanent link to this article:

1 comment

  1. 1
    pow wow says:

    Late yesterday, January 24th, as I noted on Twitter, the Senate adopted a package of rule changes – though not, thank goodness, via the “nuclear option,” despite Majority Leader Harry Reid’s reckless plan to use it, announced months ago.

    The Senate-dismantling nuclear option was evidently avoided thanks wholly or mostly to some crucial work done behind the scenes by a group of eight Senators, led by Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona – who both spoke out yesterday against the foolhardiness of violating the Senate’s rules to “change” them, McCain most perceptively, I thought. Those eight Senators stood up to defend and take responsibility for their, and our, institution, instead of leaving it defenseless against the machinations of their respective political Parties. So the nation itself – whether it knows it or not, and regardless of whether our presidency-enthralled Free Press can be bothered to notice – owes a huge debt of gratitude to those eight Senators for thanklessly investing their time and effort, and acting responsibly, in an age of buck-passing irresponsibility in Washington, D.C. – and all eight Senators certainly have my profound gratitude.

    The other Senators involved in this self-appointed, informal rules committee group were the chair and ranking member of the actual Senate Rules Committee, Chuck Schumer of New York and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, plus Mark Pryor of Arkansas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and just-retired Jon Kyl of Arizona – who all – more importantly than simply pontificating – worked hard (in private) for weeks or months with the Senate Parliamentarian to find a way around the Party-driven efforts to bypass the Senate’s regular order. The result of their negotiations apparently makes up the main substance of the rule-change package “deal” suddenly produced yesterday by the two Parties (that is, by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky) – which I have yet to see – that was shoved through the Senate as quickly as possible Thursday evening, after discussions and vote-counts in private Party caucuses.

    As far as I was able to discern yesterday, the focus of the rule changes, predictably, is the optional Rule 22 cloture process – as both Parties continue to work hard to avoid the return of a live Senate floor, with its default Senate rules… The rule changes seem to be an effort to ‘re-invent the wheel’ basically, by copying some of the time-tested procedures embedded in the longstanding default Senate rules and precedents into the optional supermajority cloture rule (which by now could more accurately be described as the “Party rule”…). And some of the rule changes are apparently sunsetted, or temporary, to give the Senate two years to see how they work.

    At a later date I will either update this comment, or write another comment, to link to the rule changes (and to the floor comments made by some of the eight Senators yesterday), and describe them in more detail.

    [To any commenters: Please note that your first comment on this site won’t post until I release it from moderation, but any subsequent comments will post immediately.]

Comments are now closed (as of 120 days after the post was published).

(Next Home Page post ») »

« (« Previous Home Page post)