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Filibuster/Cloture
Excerpts from Speeches       Proceedings and Debates       Hearings       Committee prints and reports



Resolutions to change the rule for cloture (Senate Rule XXII), the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster, were introduced at the beginning of every first session of Congress but one since 1953.[1]91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 10, 1969): 418-425. The resolutions varied from providing cloture by a three-fifths vote of those present and voting, to providing cloture by a simple majority vote, to providing cloture by a constitutional majority vote. Accompanying each resolution was the debate as to whether the Senate was a continuing body bound by the rules of earlier Senates, or whether each new Congress brings with it a new Senate, thus enabling it to amend its rules at the beginning of a new session.[2]For a detailed history of Rule XXII, see Senator Fannin's account at 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 13, 1969): 523. As Senator Mondale pointed out, "the effort to end the filibuster takes on an 'Alice in Wonderland' quality, as the majority's desire to change the rule is thwarted by the rule itself. As a result, the argument over a change in the rules soon becomes an argument over the nature of the Senate...."[3]91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 14, 1969) at 585. In order to even consider changing Senate Rule XXII, the cloture rule, the Senate first had to overcome the inevitable filibuster that accompanied the proposed rule change with the very vote for cloture it was trying to change. After a long and sometimes rancorous debate, Senate Rule XXII was changed from requiring two-thirds of those present and voting to invoke cloture to a constitutional three-fifths to invoke cloture, or 60 votes. Senators Mondale and Pearson (R-KS) were the cosponsors of Senate Resolution 4, the catalyst for the rule change.

Early in his Senate career, Walter Mondale supported resolutions amending Rule XXII by providing for cloture by a majority vote. He eventually changed that position: "When I first came to the Senate, I cosponsored a measure to close off debate with 51 percent of the vote of the Senate. The longer I am here, the more I feel that this would be an unwise policy, and I will no longer support a rule which allows a simple majority to close off debate. As I see it, it is an issue between the ability to paralyze, on the one hand, and the ability to require full ventilation of an issue, on the other. In my opinion, there are crucial issues which demand full consideration by the Senate—the kind of full consideration that no other institution in this country is capable of giving. Such consideration requires extended debate."[4]92nd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 117 (September 29, 1971) at 33890.

In 1975, Senator Mondale spearheaded the fight to change Senate Rule XXII, introducing his and Senator Pearson's Senate Resolution 4 on the first day of the new Congress. Senate Resolution 4 proposed to amend Rule XXII by reducing the number of Senators present and voting for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths. Senator Mondale argued that "Rule XXII, in its present form, has protected the right of debate at the expense of the right to decide. Rule XXII has significantly impaired the ability of this body to function, and its inhibitions on the legislative process promise to increase, rather than diminish, during the 94th Congress." He urged his colleagues to vote to change the rule, asserting that "we may take no more important action during the 94th Congress than the steps we are now taking to reform Rule XXII of the Standing Rules.[5]94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (January 17, 1975) at 756.

The debate on Senate Resolution 4 was fervent, long, and at times absurd. Senator Byrd (D-WV) delayed action on the resolution for three weeks; Senator Allen (D-AL) argued that changing the rule would limit the minority's right to debate and called it a "gag rule." He refused to yield several times to Senator Mondale and used many dilatory tactics to filibuster the resolution: suggesting the absence of a quorum (thus forcing a time-consuming roll call), having the journals from previous days read, reading articles out loud and moving to have the Senate recess for hours at a time. At one point, Senator Allen introduced an amendment to amend the journal for March 3 by inserting "A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi" at the start of the day's proceedings.[6]94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 4, 1975) at 4994.

Despite dilatory tactics, animated debate, and criticism, Senator Mondale maintained his sense of humor. Before one of several votes for cloture, he stated:

"Tomorrow the Senate will have an opportunity to vote on cloture, on the question of voting on the merits of the revised resolution. It should be recognized by all that, under the rules, once cloture is invoked, if it is, every Senator still has remaining rights to have pending amendments considered under the rules, and the opportunity to argue his point of view.

I understand that the Senator from Alabama already has thought of 20 changes that he thinks would strengthen Rule XXII. As a matter of fact, the Senator from Alabama has been so creative, his mind so fertile, his stamina so unremitting, that the Legislature of Alabama, we are told, passed a resolution so glowing in praise that the modesty of the Senator from Alabama prevented him from requesting that the resolution be printed in the record. I hope that when these proceedings are over, the Senator from Alabama will permit me to introduce that resolution, so that our colleagues will know what the Legislature of Alabama thinks of him and the high regard they have for him.

I also hope that the International Parliamentary Union might review this record and, perhaps, shape a new medal, a new award of some kind, which would confer upon him some international award for the fertility of his mind, which I think is without any effective comparison in this body or in any other parliamentary body in the world. . . .

I doubt that any other member of any parliamentary body in the world today is creative enough to move that their journals recite, verbatim, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi or the Lord's Prayer. . . .

Coming from the family of a minister, where one of the first things we learned to do was recite those prayers, I was moved by the leadership of the Senator from Alabama. However, I was somewhat hurt that the 23d Psalm, which certainly deserves great recognition, was not included in his amendments. But, I am sure that was an oversight and that, if the occasion arises, the Senator from Alabama will strengthen his position by adding the 23d Psalm, perhaps to Rule XXII, as a reform measure." [7]91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (January 10, 1969) at 5526.

In the final days of the debate, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced an amendment to Senate Resolution 4. The amendment, Senate Resolution 93, changed Senator Mondale and Senator Pearson's initial resolution by requiring three-fifths of the entire Senate to vote for cloture, rather than three-fifths of those present and voting. After seven weeks of delay and debate, Senate Resolution 4, as amended, was passed on March 7, 1975. While it is considered "the Byrd rule" today, Senators Mondale and Pearson are credited with the change. Senator Nelson (D-WI) states, "Much of the credit for this important change in Senate procedures goes to the chief sponsors of Senate Resolution 4—the distinguished Senator from Minnesota and the distinguished Senator from Kansas. Despite formidable opposition, these Senators steered Senate Resolution 4 through the parliamentary thicket and to final passage. They are to be congratulated and to be thanked." [8]94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 17, 1975) at 6954-6955.

To this day, three-fifths of the entire Senate, or 60 votes, are required to end a filibuster.

 

Excerpts from Senator Mondale's speeches on cloture: [Top]


The gavel of the United States Senate,
used by the presiding officer;
credit: U.S. Senate Historical Office

"Some of you may remember that I was involved in several long and sometimes bitter debates over the cloture rule. When I traveled around the world, I always asked parliamentary leaders how their rules governed the closing of debate: How did their Parliament get to a vote? Wherever I went, I got the same response: Bafflement. They could not understand it. They could not explain how they got to a vote. Somehow, they just called a vote and it was held.

Of course, that is much different than here in the Senate. One of the first things we learn in the Senate is the rules that govern the closure of debate. It is the essence of the stature and the power of each Senator and, I believe, of the Senate itself.

When I came to the Senate, I thought a simple majority should be enough to end debate. I had seen the cloture rule abused in the past, especially on civil rights. The old rules permitted virtually endless talk. In recent years, many Senators had developed a post-cloture strategy where, even after a successful cloture vote, they could still carry on forever, reading and amending the Journal, reading and amending the Chaplain's prayer — as we did for several days — filing hundreds of amendments, with no end in sight.

It had to be changed, and it was, to what is now called the Byrd rule. But to end a filibuster still requires 60 votes, and I believe that is about right. It is a balancing act. You need to be able to close off debate, but you also need to give an individual Senator the power to stop everything in the country and to rip open an issue in a way that no other institution in America can."

Senate Leaders Lecture Series, September 4, 2002.


"The attack on the filibuster is developing into a ritual for the beginning of every Congress—a ritual led by the same group of Senators who make the same eminently logical arguments, only to be defeated and forced to await the beginning of still another Congress.

I would hope that we could once and for all put an end to this principle of minority control and get on to the urgent business of the day. For I have the unpleasant feeling that time is not on our side and that we cannot indefinitely afford to be bound by a rule which fosters obstructionism." 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 14, 1969) at 585.



U.S. Senate Historical Office

"Since coming to the Senate, I have viewed a change in Rule XXII as one of the most crucial issues of congressional reform. Basically it has been my position, and continues to be, that Rule XXII's provision that two-thirds of those present and voting are required to vote cloture permits paralysis of the legislative process. Thus, I have consistently supported past efforts to amend Rule XXII. This is still my position, and I will continue to support efforts to change Rule XXII....

As I see it, it is an issue between the ability to paralyze, on the one hand, and the ability to require full ventilation of an issue, on the other. In my opinion, there are crucial issues which demand full consideration by the Senate—the kind of full consideration that no other institution in this country is capable of giving. Such consideration requires extended debate." 92nd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 117 (September 29, 1971) at 33890.

Cloture Voting, United States Senate, 1947 to 2008; credit: United States Senate

"Senate Resolution 4 clearly assures that the Senate will continue guaranteed lengthy, respectful debate and deliberation on all matters coming before it. If one looks at the roster of the Senate on practically any issue, and asks what is required to achieve cloture, it is clear that one would be required to have broad agreement and consensus before cloture can be invoked.

Unlike the present rule where, if there are absentees on the negative side of a cloture motion, those absentees reduce the burden of the proponents of cloture, 60 would be required. We would need 60 on the side of the proponents to close off debate. It is a very high, but fair, hill to climb. The burden would be on the proponents of cloture.

In order to get 60 votes, the proponents would have to have the support of a broad cross-section of geographic and political points of view. It is a proposal which strongly protects those who want debate and restraint, and it would continue to assure that the Senate is a fair body, a body which represents all points of view, and one which can move in the face of strong opposition only when a respectable, decent consensus has been reached with 60 Senators." 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 6, 1975) at 5527.



"Today is an historic day in the U.S. Senate. Passage of Senate Resolution 4 represents a significant victory for those who have fought to reform the procedures of this body. Reform of Rule XXII will make the Senate more efficient, more democratic, and more effectual.

Senate Resolution 4 is the first reform in 16 years—and I believe, the most important reform in 186 years—of a rule which has frequently paralyzed this body and diminished its credibility with the citizens of America.

But the real importance of today's action goes beyond procedural reform and beyond the confines of the U.S. Senate. In a very real sense, today's action is a victory for all America.

With a reformed Rule XXII, the Senate will be able to deal with the pressing problems of America of 1975. With a reformed Rule XXII, the Senate will be able to legislate in the fields of tax reform, energy policy, economics, campaign procedures, consumer needs, and other critical matters.

With a reformed Rule XXII, the Senate will be able to act, even when a small, intransigent minority seeks to frustrate action. With a reformed Rule XXII, the will of this body and the will of the American people will be translated into legislative action.

Instead of the 'filibuster Congress,' the 94th Congress will be known as the 'action Congress.'" 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 7, 1975) at 5647.

Selected U.S. Senate proceedings and debates on Senate Rule XXII, 1965-1976: [Top]
U.S. Senate hearings on Senate Rule XXII in which Senator Mondale participated: [Top]
  • Examining the Filibuster, 111th Cong. (2010).

Selected Senate committee prints and reports on Senate Rule XXII: [Top]

    Committee Prints

  • Staff of Comm. on Rules and Administration,Senate Cloture Rule (Comm. Print 1971).

  • Staff of Comm. on Rules and Administration,Senate Cloture Rule: Limitation of Debate in the Congress of the U.S. and Legislative History of Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the U.S. Senate (Cloture Rule) (Comm. Print 1973).

  • Staff of Comm. on Rules and Administration, 94th Cong., Standing Rules of the U.S. Senate and Provisions of the Legislative Reorganization Acts of 1946 and 1970 Relating to Operation of the Senate (Comm. Print 1975).

  • Congressional Research Service Reports

  • Jill Spier and Frederick H. Pauls, Cong. Research Serv., Senate Cloture Rule (1971).

  • John M. Reynolds, Cong. Research Serv., Senate Cloture Rule: Limitation of Debate in the Congress of the U.S. and Legislative History of Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate (Cloture Rule) (1975).


Endnotes:[TOP]
  1. 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 10, 1969): 418-425.
  2. For a detailed history of Rule XXII, see Senator Fannin's account at 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 13, 1969): 523.
  3. 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 14, 1969) at 585.
  4. 92nd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 117 (September 29, 1971) at 33890.
  5. 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (January 17, 1975) at 756.
  6. 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 4, 1975) at 4994.
  7. 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (January 10, 1969) at 5526.
  8. 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (March 17, 1975) at 6954-6955.