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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript`


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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Now, that is what a filibuster looks like, a real one, Jimmy Stewart collapsing at the end of a 23-hour filibuster, a one-man filibuster in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Well, now filibusters are those nonevents that gum up legislation and
lately have almost paralyzed the United States Senate. Well, the talking
filibuster, like you saw in that famous Jimmy Stewart scene, may be making
a comeback, no more just hiding and having full tracks, but actually forcing the filibuster to go out there and filibust.

Anyway, Democrats are pushing for the change. Republicans, led by Senate Leader -- you won`t be surprised by this -- Mitch McConnell say it will only make the gridlock worse. Of course, he makes the gridlock worse by his existence.

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon supports a rule enforcing a talking filibuster. Jonathan Weisman is a congressional correspondent for "The New York Times."

Senator, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

I have never met you, but this is quite a cause.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: You`re welcome.

MATTHEWS: How does it look? Can you get this done on the first day of business in January?

MERKLEY: Well, I think it has a very good possibility. Senators are so frustrated with the current state of affairs that they`re recognizing that there is no longer a choice, if you will, between just getting along or reforming. We`re going to have to reform the rules in order to have the Senate have any chance of addressing the big issues that America faces.

MATTHEWS: What is it -- as you look at it, as a student of politics, you`re now a United States senator, what is a proper use of a Jimmy Stewart-type filibuster, where one guy or woman goes out there and basically holds the floor as long as this physical ability and their moral strength holds?

MERKLEY: When you have an issue that you feel so profoundly concerned
about that it threatens core values or core interests of your state, core
constitutional principles, then to stand up and be heard and make your case
before your colleagues and the American people, the Jimmy Stewart-style
filibuster is completely appropriate.

MATTHEWS: And so you don`t believe -- if you force them to go out there -- I will get to Jonathan in a minute. If you force them out there, you don`t expect they will use it to read the Bible or to read the Constitution over again because nobody on C-SPAN now -- Jimmy Stewart wasn`t on C-SPAN.

Now they would have to do it 24/7. Do you think it would be a good filibuster, just asking a qualitative question, if it didn`t include hard arguments again and again for the position you were taking?

MERKLEY: Certainly, I think that a senator reading, if you will, from a phone book is going to make much less of an impression to the American people than someone who is arguing convictions from their heart. But here is the thing. If they do read from a phone book, then it`s before the American people. It`s on television, and the American people can see the source of the obstruction. And they can say, given the cause, that that person is either a hero in their eyes or a bum. And they can call up their own senator, their own home state senator, and say, either join the filibuster or vote to end debate, because it`s outrageous and ridiculous. But right now we don`t have any of that public accountability. It`s all hidden.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a case here, Jonathan. Suppose John McCain sticks to
his guns and he`s -- if, I don`t know, it`s all an "if". I don`t know if the president has made up his mind or not. If he does put up Susan Rice for secretary of state to replace Secretary Clinton and John McCain says, "I`ll filibuster it", wouldn`t he have to get up there and argue really hard facts that knock down her right to be accepted?

JONATHAN WEISMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: If Senator Merkley gets his way -- absolutely. But right now, all he`d have to do is say I object or even not even say I object -- to have Mitch McConnell say, I object. Harry Reid says, oh, well, we move on to the next thing -- and that`s the end of it.

MATTHEWS: So, that`s the way they do it. They double track it. They say, we`ll talk other business now.

What do you think is going to be the way the Senate decides this? Will it be partisan? Whether they decide to go to a real filibuster, you go to the mattresses, you stay up all night and force quorum calls over and over again where they gave up on change? What do you think is going to be the politics of this?

MERKLEY: Well, the politics right now are that Mitch McConnell is absolutely opposing any change in the rules because he has the advantage of paralyzing the Senate with no public accountability. The talking filibuster forces his process to be done before the American people, and I think he realizes the American people are not going to like what they see. And yet that`s where it should be.

If you don`t have the courage of your convictions to stand before the American people and say, "I`m obstructing this bill and here is why," then, in fact, you should shut up, sit down, and let the vote go forward. And there`s no silver bullet here, but creating this public visibility so there`s time and effort put into a filibuster and responses, feedback and perhaps change the next culture vote to end debate is probably the best of creating a real dialogue on the Senate floor, real accountability and transparency before the American people.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, when the Senate -- Jonathan, when the Senate comes
back this January, how will it work? How will the people like Senator Merkley who want to get this done, how will they do it? Technically, how do they do it?

WEISMAN: Well -- Senator Reid has a huge decision here because if he can have -- if he can get 51 Democrats, he`s got 55 Democrats -- 53 and two independents, if he can get 51 of them, he could do this by doing what Senator Merkley would call the constitutional option, what a lot of other people on both sides call the nuclear option, which is to say, "I`m going to go, I`m doing to move to make this rules change, and I`m going to just ignore a Republican filibuster."

If they do that, the Senate parliamentarian will rule almost certainly that they`ve broken the rules, and then with 51 votes, Senator Reid could just overrule the parliamentarian, throw out his ruling and say, we`re changing the rules anyway. If he does it, that`s going nuclear. It would be a huge deal, and really it`s never been done on anything this big. It`s really the big question that Senator Reid has to do because I`ll tell you, they`re not going to get the Republicans they need to make this rules change.

MATTHEWS: You know, back -- Senator, back in 1957 when Nixon was vice president, he tried to do this from the vice president`s chair. He tried to declare the Senate a new body, like the House is a new body every two years, a new Congress, and he tried to it. It was the Democrats, the liberals, who backed up the segregationists and they struck -- they defeated him. He tried to do this single handedly. What do you think are the odds of you winning this one?

MERKLEY: I think the odds are fairly good, and the reason why is that each time there`s been a ruling in the past, it`s been actually in favor of the constitutional option or as a constitutional issue, it`s been put to the body and the body has then -- for example, in 1975 voted that, indeed, 51 could change the rules. That set the stage for a negotiation. So there is the possibility that if 51 are in place and ready to act, that we will be able to persuade Republicans, look, you have concerns. You want to be able to do amendments on the floor. That`s something I think is a legitimate issue. Democrats want to be able to do amendments on the floor. Let`s come together, recognizing that if we don`t come together, we`re
going to have a rule change with 51 that will address the filibuster but
not the amendments, and let`s find a proposal that actually works on both
of the major concerns, Republicans` concern about amendments and Democrats` concern about this silent blockade of legislative action.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You know, when the Nazi shut down the American films in
occupied France in World War II, they said no more American and British
movies. That was the movie that the theater directors -- the theater
managers ran again and again as the last free movie, the last movie about
freedom. Thank you, Senator Jeff Merkley.

MERKLEY: No problem.


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