Chuck Schumer Urged to End Filibuster in Letter From 62 Groups Including Unions, Greenpeace

A progressive coalition urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to quickly push for the end of the Senate's filibuster to end congressional "gridlock and dysfunction" on Friday.

A coalition of 62 organizations, including advocacy groups like Greenpeace and labor unions, insisted that the rule change would "restore a functioning Senate" in a letter addressed to Schumer. Progressive calls to eliminate the filibuster have been mounting amid concerns that Republicans in the Senate could obstruct attempts to pass Democratic legislation under the current rules, despite Democrats recently taking control of both Congress and the White House.

"The filibuster was never intended to be used and abused the way it has been over the past decade," the groups wrote to Schumer. "Despite what some will claim, the filibuster isn't in the Constitution. The framers were explicitly trying to avoid supermajority requirements for legislation, and until recently, the filibuster was only very rarely used to block ordinary legislation supported by the majority of senators."

"We urge Senate Democrats, under your leadership, to take speedy action to fix the broken Senate and make progress possible by changing the rules to end the gridlock and dysfunction," the letter continued. "The best way to restore a functioning Senate is to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon the minority can use to block an agenda that a majority of Americans have just embraced at the ballot box."

Schumer Filibuster Senate Progressives
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) appears at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2021. Drew Angerer/Getty

Due to the filibuster, also known as the cloture rule, most bills require the support of at least 60 senators to avoid the possibility of being blocked. Limited exceptions to the rule exist for legislation concerning taxes and spending, which can be passed with a simple majority using the Senate's reconciliation process, which applies to annual budget bills.

Democrats are currently pursuing reconciliation in hopes of passing at least some of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Many other progressive priorities cannot be addressed without facing a potential filibuster roadblock. While changing the rule would allow Democrats to pass legislation without Republican support, all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus would have to vote in favor.

Following the Democratic takeover of the Senate in January, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted to convince Schumer to enter into an agreement to preserve the filibuster. Although the demand was eventually dropped, it was a key issue that delayed the parties finalizing a power sharing arrangement. Although the upper chamber is split 50-50, Democrats have control because Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to break ties.

Progressives hoping to do away with the filibuster have been placing mounting pressure on Schumer to act during his first few weeks as majority leader. Two groups who signed off on Friday's letter, Fix Our Senate and Just Democracy, have also appealed to Schumer through advertisements including billboards prominently displayed in New York City's Times Square and a full-page print ad in The New York Times.

If Schumer does decide to pursue ending the filibuster, efforts to nix the rule will need to overcome significant barriers to succeed. At least two Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have explicitly said that they will not sign off on the move. Without full Democratic support, help would be needed from at least some Republicans, who would have no obvious incentive to support the change.

Newsweek reached out to Schumer's office for comment.