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Harry Reid speaks to the press

Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid spoke to the press in the U.S. Capitol building on September 27, 2016. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As Harry Reid Dies at 82, Democrats Urged to Take His Advice and Abolish the Filibuster

"The future of our country is sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster. Something must change," the former Senate majority leader wrote in 2019.

Jake Johnson

As condolences for the loved ones of Harry Reid poured in following his death Tuesday at the age of 82, progressives recalled the former Senate majority leader's vocal condemnations of the upper chamber's filibuster rule and urged Democrats to honor the late Nevada lawmaker by eliminating it for good.

"In a chamber where too many Democrats can be afraid of their own shadow, Harry Reid was willing to deliver for the American people and didn't care what it took," tweeted Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) following news of Reid's passing. "They should learn from his example and abolish the filibuster."

"I am now calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in all its forms."

Long a dominant political force in Nevada, where he grew up in deep poverty, Reid—an early supporter of the Iraq invasion and an opponent of Medicare for All—was hardly an unalloyed darling of progressives during his lengthy tenure as the Senate's top Democrat.

But Reid's outspoken opposition to the Senate filibuster in his later years was seen as a major catalyst of Democrats' growing push to kill the rule, which is stifling progress on voting rights, climate action, immigration reform, and other key elements of the party's agenda by effectively giving the GOP minority veto power over most legislation.

In November 2013, the Reid-led Senate Democratic majority ended the 60-vote rule for presidential nominations in response to unceasing Republican obstruction. Following his retirement from the Senate in 2017, Reid endorsed the complete elimination of the filibuster, which he said was "suffocating the will of the American people."

"The Senate is now a place where the most pressing issues facing our country are disregarded, along with the will of the American people overwhelmingly calling for action. The future of our country is sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster," Reid wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in August 2019. "Something must change. That is why I am now calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in all its forms."

That same month, Reid told The Daily Beast: "It is not a question of if. It is a question of when we get rid of the filibuster. It's gone. It's gone."

"The answer is yes," Reid said when asked whether he would support nuking the filibuster rule to pass climate legislation. "[T]he No. 1 priority is climate change. There's nothing that affects my children, grandchildren, and their children, right now, more than climate."

Altering or scrapping the filibuster rule would require the backing of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris—a level of support the party has yet to reach thanks largely to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the upper chamber's most ardent filibuster apologists.

As soon as the first week of January, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to attempt once again to advance a voting rights bill in the upper chamber, an effort that is likely to prompt yet another GOP filibuster.

Should such a scenario play out, the Senate will "consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation," Schumer wrote in a recent letter to colleagues.

In an appearance on MSNBC following news of Reid's death Tuesday, Schumer said the Nevada Democrat "was a strong advocate of changing the rules of the Senate, which I hope we carry with us forward in the next few weeks."

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