After hearing about Mike Castle’s openness to changes in the Senate rules, I wondered what his Democratic opponent in the Delaware Senate would have to say about the issue, which is fundamental to governance if you believe that Democrats will lose seats and have a smaller majority next year. Chris Coons is the New Castle County Executive (which actually covers a significant amount of the small state of Delaware) and the underdog in the race against Castle, the longtime Congressman and former Governor. So far, polls show Castle with a lead in the low double digits, although under 50%, and given his stature and association with the federal government it’s safe to say that Castle assumes the role of incumbent in the race. So where does Coons stand on the filibuster, and can he make this an issue in the race?
The Coons campaign tells me that “Chris is open to reform,” and specifically that the rules haven’t worked in the Senate over the past session. “Chris believes the obstructionist minority Republicans have abused the rules,” says campaign aide Daniel McElhatton. As for what specific steps Coons would take, the campaign was more circumspect. He supports the legislation that ends “secret holds,” which has the support of at least 67 current Senators and should see a vote in September. That’s a pretty mild reform, since it still allows one Senator to hold up any piece of legislation or appointee, or at least force a cloture vote. In addition, Coons “believes those Senators that claim they don’t want to end debate should be required to be on the floor and voice their opposition.” In other words, make them filibuster. But that doesn’t change the threshold for a cloture vote, and on this point, Coons has thus far had nothing to say.
Given that Castle has pronounced himself “open” to reform, this doesn’t differentiate too much. But as the campaign goes on, it could be an issue where both candidates have to escalate their rhetoric and make more promises, which could have a positive effect for January, when Tom Udall will seek to change the Senate rules at the beginning of the next Congress by majority vote.
Democratic candidates from around the country have voiced a willingness to change the rules of the Senate to allow for smoother functioning governance. Chris Bowers has a good list of them. As many as 43 Democratic Senators and candidates appear to support some manner of reform, though not necessarily a 51-vote Senate.