The weird rule that broke American politics

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Vox

The filibuster started as an accident. Today it lets the losers rule Congress. Become a Video Lab member! http://bit.ly/video-lab The US Senate is supposed to pass laws. But today, it’s broken. And it’s broken because of something called the filibuster, which has been part of Senate tradition for over 200 years. But the filibuster came into being by accident. And today, some politicians are suggesting we should get rid of it entirely. Further reading: * My colleague Matt Yglesias does a great job breaking down the 2020 Democrats’ debate over the filibuster: https://www.vox.com/2019/3/5/18241447/filibuster-reform-explained-warren-booker-sanders * Ezra Klein dispels some myths about the filibuster: https://www.vox.com/2015/5/27/18089312/myths-about-the-filibuster * The book “Politics of Principle?” from Sarah Binder and Steven Smith from the Brookings Institution, really helped me understand the Senate filibuster: https://www.brookings.edu/book/politics-or-principle/ * The book “Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate” from Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, puts the filibuster in a broader context: https://www.amazon.com/Filibustering-Political-Obstruction-American-Politics/dp/0226449653 * Lastly, this article from the Stanford Law Review answered some basic questions about the Senate filibuster: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1682&context=faculty_scholarship;The "Note: The headline for this video has been updated since publishing. Previous headline: How the filibuster broke the US senate Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com. Watch our full video catalog: http://goo.gl/IZONyE Follow Vox on Facebook: http://goo.gl/U2g06o Or Twitter: http://goo.gl/XFrZ5H

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Video Transcript:

These hundred people are the US Senate they passed laws they vote and when a majority says yes it passes but these days the Senate doesn't do that very often the Senate holding two votes both failed it's completely dysfunctional four versions of gun control proposals and all four failed see the Senate has this rule it says before they vote 60 people have to agree to have the vote that means just 41 people minority can Entirely block a bill this is called a filibuster early on filibusters were rare this is a chart of the number of times the Senate has had a vote to break a filibuster in the last hundred years but in the last 50 years they started to grow and now almost every big bill is filibustered the US Senate is broken and the filibuster broken but the Senate didn't always have this rule in fact it all kind of happened by accident this is the Senate in 1805 it's much smaller Than it is now and the filibuster as we know it today doesn't exist yet and before they vote on a bill they debate if they want to end debate and vote they just need a majority to agree but vice president Aaron Burr thinks a high-minded place like the Senate should have as much debate as needed so the Senate gets rid of the rule now senators can debate for as long as they want and there's no way to stop them this is the beginning of the Senate filibuster at First it isn't really a problem because the Senate is still pretty small there's only so long a group of senators gonna physically talk now eventually they tire out debate ends and they get to a vote but as the u.s. grows so does the Senate and they have more factions and more people to filibuster bills they moved to a bigger room and now it's 1917 World War one is under way but the US isn't involved then President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to authorize a broad Military action a group of senators don't want to give Wilson the power to enter the war so they decide to debate until session ends filibuster Woodrow Wilson is mad and he demands that they go back to the old Senate rules the debate can be ended with a simple majority the Senate doesn't want to do that so instead they compromise they change the rules so they can end debate with the approval of two-thirds of the Senate so That if senators want to block a bill they need 1/3 to do it this is basically the system we have today a supermajority to agree to vote and a simple majority to pass a law and for a few decades the filibuster is used but pretty sparingly then in the 1950s the Senate starts to consider civil rights legislation and southern senators really hate this but they don't have the votes to actually defeat the bills so they start using the filibuster to block bills here's South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond he looks tired because he does filibuster the 1957 Civil Rights Act for more than 24 hours these filibusters are painstaking and they blocked the Senate from actually doing work the majority leader at the time Mike Mansfield doesn't like this he's okay with needing a supermajority to pass things but he doesn't like are these long pointless speeches so he makes a change he skips the debate and goes directly to a vote To see if there's a super majority to end debate this means the Senators want a filibuster they don't have to stand up and talk they can just threaten to as long as they have the numbers to block a supermajority vote this makes it way easier to filibuster and the number of filibusters grows in the mid-70s the Senate changes the threshold needed a filibuster now instead of 34 senators you need 41 but it doesn't make much of a difference And then around the 2000s senators and the minorities start to realize something they can gain more politically by fighting than by cooperating so they filibuster everything the other party wants to do that's what leads to this spike now almost every big bill is filibustered finally in 2013 the Democratic majority makes a change to the rules that says the filibuster no longer applies to certain confirmation votes in 2017 the Republican majority Makes another similar change both times it feels like a huge deal but now things are beginning to change the 2020 elections are coming up and Democrats have some big proposals health care in America federal investment in teacher salaries investments in clean energy the Democrats note even if they have a majority in the Senate they're not going to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and that's why a new idea is now on the table would you Urge the Senate Democratic leader to get rid of the filibuster I think we have to have that on the table did you get rid of the filibuster getting rid of an old tradition naturally feels radical but here's one more story about the filibuster the Senate is only one half of Congress the other half the House of Representatives also used to have rules that allow the minority party to filibuster bills then in 1888 Republicans won control of the house but The filibuster rules kept them from actually passing anything it was like the election and ultimately the will of the people didn't even matter so they got rid of it and the reasoning was pretty simple if the party that loses an election can block the winners from doing anything what does it mean to be a democracy [Music]

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