The surprising amount of power Vice President Kamala Harris could have
James Wallner, a former Republican Senate staffer who is now a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and writes extensively on Senate procedure, said Harris could singlehandedly undermine Republicans’ use of the filibuster as currently practiced by simply enforcing the Senate rules as they are written.
He opined that the Senate’s current practice gives the appearance of leadership, asking senators’ permission before putting legislation to a vote.
“I think the problem is that … if you can’t get unanimous consent to schedule a vote, you just assume that there’s a filibuster, and nobody uses the rules,” he said. “Nobody walks around and says, ‘do we have your permission to do something now,’ but that’s how it looks on the outside. And that’s how the members themselves telegraph it because it makes it easier for them to blame others for why they’re not doing anything.”
Wallner posited that if Harris decided to put in the time to preside over the Senate and enforce the body’s rules on voting and debate, it would “take care of the problem [of the filibuster] very aggressively.” But he cautioned that she would need buy-in from Schumer and Senate Democrats.
Ultimately, he said the vice president could also force action on Biden’s agenda by simply calling for the Senate to vote rather than allowing the body to spend most of the time in “quorum calls” while waiting for senators to deliver speeches on matters unrelated to the business at hand. It’s a course of action he recommended to McConnell several years ago to force through more judicial confirmations in less time.
“Why are majority Democrats or Republicans putting the Senate in a quorum call and then complaining about filibusters?” He said. “Just stop putting the Senate in a quorum call, stop speaking, stop going to the floor and speaking on unrelated issues, force the minority party to go to the floor and speak, and when nobody is on the floor to speak from the minority party, then call the vote…it’s very easy, and it gets around the filibuster.”
Ultimately, the choice of whether to use her role as president of the Senate to personally shepherd Biden’s agenda through the upper chamber will be Harris’ choice alone. But Wallner took pains to stress that she does, in fact, have a choice.
“The vice president can actually speed up the senate very, very, very much, but to do so you have to have legislation and other things on the floor because the vice president can’t force senators to take things off the calendar,” he said. “But once the floor debate starts, the vice president can force the Senate to act.”
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