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Letter to Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader - Major Changes to the Rules of the Senate

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday urged a return to regular order when bringing legislation to the floor. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Wicker and Graham point to the resolution of previous logjams as a way to move forward.

In part, the letter states:

"In 2005, when an aggrieved majority proposed rules changes that would have resulted in limiting the rights of Senators to debate judicial nominations, a bipartisan group of members pulled the Senate back from choosing the so-called nuclear option."

"We believe a similar outcome is within reach at this juncture. In our view, the current conflict is less about specific Senate rules than it is about how those rules are used either to stifle debate or frustrate the will of a clear majority."

Text of the letter follows:

August 1, 2012

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid:
We are writing to express our concern regarding your recent remarks suggesting major changes to the rules of the Senate -- changes that would severely compromise the rights of the minority. We fear that such statements threaten far-reaching consequences for the institution of the Senate and its current and future membership.

Particularly troubling is your apparent reversal regarding when and how you might amend Senate rules requiring a two-thirds threshold to invoke cloture. Last year, at the beginning of the 112th Congress, you explicitly rejected what you now propose: making significant alterations to the rules by simple majority. On January 27, 2011, you affirmed, "We've agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate -- that is the so-called "constitutional option' -- and he (Leader McConnell) won't in the future."

Mr. Leader, the agreement and course set that day were correct.

The Senate tradition of unlimited debate derives from the institution's constitutional origins as a body of careful deliberation, designed especially to be a protector of minority rights. In explaining the broad utility of the filibuster in 2005, you asserted that the practice is "very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the framers of our Constitution, limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. The filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check."

In 2005, when an aggrieved majority proposed rules changes that would have resulted in limiting the rights of Senators to debate judicial nominations, a bipartisan group of members pulled the Senate back from choosing the so-called nuclear option. Accommodations were made to the minority to achieve the necessary consensus, and a procedure was agreed upon that allowed the Senate to process the majority's priorities while maintaining regular order and the rights of the minority.

We believe a similar outcome is within reach at this juncture. In our view, the current conflict is less about specific Senate rules than it is about how those rules are used either to stifle debate or frustrate the will of a clear majority. The rights of the majority do not include the right to restrict the opportunity to offer amendments. Similarly, the Senate tradition of open and extended debate does not provide carte blanche for interminable debate, designed to deny a democratic outcome.

We respectfully recommend you employ your knowledge of the institution and its procedures, as well as your unique position of influence as Majority Leader, to achieve an agreement that is respectful of both the prerogatives of the majority and the liberties of the minority. We believe tactics such as filling the amendment tree and liberal use of the filibuster should be utilized sparingly and with appropriate restraint. We suspect most Senators agree. We pledge our support to developing a way forward on these matters in the hope of preserving the traditions and character of this, the greatest of parliamentary bodies.

Sincerely yours,

Roger F. Wicker
Lindsey Graham


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