Interview with Senator Tom Udall

Interview with Senator Tom Udall

By Rachel Maddow Show - January 26, 2010

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico. Sen. Udall, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. It‘s nice to have you here.

UDALL: Great, Rachel. It‘s good to be with you on this show.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about the 2005 versus today scenario that I just laid out, because I have been confused about this. Democrats were convinced the Republicans could kill the filibuster with just a majority vote. They were so convinced that they caved on a lot of the issues the Republicans wanted them to cave on.

Now, Democrats, many of them, don‘t seem to believe that they could get rid of the filibuster with a majority vote. Do you think that‘s right?

UDALL: What has happened, Rachel, is we have gotten ourselves into a terrible box. And this is what the box is. First of all, we‘ve put into the Senate rules the provision that - the rules in the Senate will continue from one Senate to the next. So that‘s one.

And the second provision is that you can only change the rules in accordance with the rules, which require 67 votes. So here, we have a box that we‘ve created, and we can never get our way out of it, because we don‘t have 67 votes.

MADDOW: Right.

UDALL: My way out of it, Rachel, is very simple, And we go back to the framers. We go back to the Constitution. Basically, what we say is, in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, it says that each House, the Senate may determine its rules of its proceedings.

So at the beginning of every Congress, by a majority vote, we are able to determine our rules, so the kind of abuse that you‘re talking about that has occurred, we can consider that. We can look at it, and we can decide as a group, 51 of us, if we have the political will, to step forward.

We decide we‘re going to change the rules, and the reason you change the rules is to make them work better for the American people, to get the things done the American people sent us here to do.

MADDOW: Is that procedure that you‘re talking about, for changing - potentially, at least considering changing the filibuster rule with a 51 senator vote. Is that the same thing the Republicans were proposing doing when they were threatening what they were calling the nuclear option back in 2005?

UDALL: Well, the big difference is, the nuclear option was applying to judicial nominees only. And so they were objecting to what was happening on the filibuster with judicial nominees. And they were talking about doing it in the middle of a Senate session.

The difference, I think, between my proposal and what they were proposing then is that at the beginning of the Congress is when you adopt the rules. That‘s what the House. I served five terms in the House. The very first thing we would do at the beginning of every Congress is adopt the rules and then those rules serve throughout that particular Congress.

In this case that you‘re talking about, the nuclear option - in the middle of the Congress, they were trying to change the rules in midstream to apply to judicial nominees.

What I‘m starting is a movement within the Senate now to say at the beginning of the 112th Congress, the first order of business ought to be adopting rules for the 112th Congress, and under the Constitution, and the way the framers saw it. We can do that with a majority vote.

MADDOW: Let me ask you to take the political temperature on this for us a little bit in Washington. I‘m sure you‘ve done that already when you considered introducing this resolution.

But I feel like I‘m hearing something, I‘m hearing it from David Axelrod in the White House and from Vice President Joe Biden and from colleagues of yours, including Sen. Kaufman and Sen. Menendez and yourself, Sen. Stabenow earlier on this week on this show.

A number of senators and people who ought to have a lot of influence in this debate, like the White House and the president of the Senate, the vice president, all expressing real concern about the filibuster situation, and an interest in potentially changing this.

Do you feel like there is momentum in Washington to finally do something about this instead of just complaining about it?

UDALL: I think there‘s momentum in Washington. I think more of the people discover how the rule has been abused. I mean, if you go back to 1960 on major pieces of legislation, the filibuster was used about eight percent of the time.

You come up to our time period now, 2007 to 2009, and we‘re talking 70 percent of the time on major legislation, the filibuster being used.

And so when people find out that really, this isn‘t a real filibuster, it‘s a threat of filibuster, it‘s a shadow filibuster, many times, we‘re in a quorum call rather than actually forcing a member of the party that wants to filibuster to get up and talk about what it is they oppose.

I mean, that‘s the thing that we‘ve removed from the rules.

It used to be in the Senate that if you were filibustering, you stood up. There was a physical dimension to it, that you - when you became exhausted you would have to leave the floor. That was the idea of the filibuster.

Now, it‘s a threat, it‘s a procedural device. It‘s used as a weapon of partisanship. And so what I‘m hoping to do is to have a discussion this year, call all of my fellow senators together and say, can‘t we get the rules that worked for us, that worked for the American people and that moved us down the road to getting things accomplished rather than using the Senate rules to block what the American people want us to do back here.

MADDOW: Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, thanks very much for joining us tonight. Filibuster isn‘t the easiest thing in the world to talk about. But the more people learn about it, the angrier they get about it. Appreciate your help tonight, sir.

UDALL: Absolutely, Rachel. Thank you very much.


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