Commentary & Community

The Arcane World of Senate Rules


Filibuster. Cloture. Table. Civility.


The world of the U.S. Senate is one that may seem somewhat strange to outsiders. A variety of rules and norms operate in the upper body of the legislative branch. Most of the time the general public doesn’t pay attention to them. But sometimes an action happens on the Senate floor that causes people to notice. If you want to keep an eye on what your state’s senators are doing in Washington, then it may be good to become acquainted with how this body works.


Unlike the House of Representatives that operates more or less under majority rule, the Senate uses rules that are designed to give single members significant power to stop or delay many actions. However, these rules can be suspended under certain circumstances. To do this requires unanimous consent by the members, which is how many things get done in the Senate. However, if one member objects to suspending the rules, then the Senate must follow the process laid down for completing that specific matter.


Much of the business of the Senate is uncontroversial and is done under unanimous consent. However, when there is controversy, then senators invoke Senate rules in an attempt to stop passage of measures with which they disagree. One of the most common tactics under the rule to do this is the filibuster. The Senate rules allow for unlimited debate on a measure. If a senator or group of senators disagrees with a bill or a nomination, they can attempt to talk for as long as possible to stop it. That is a filibuster. Another senator can invoke cloture to stop a filibuster, which requires the approval of 60 senators.


The filibuster used to be relatively rare in the Senate. Today, its use has increased to an extent that senators threaten a filibuster over any item where there is disagreement. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, who was the Democratic Majority Leader, engineered a change in Senate rules to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees for positions below the Supreme Court. Some senators have indicated a willingness to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If that filibuster cannot be broken with the 60-vote threshold, it is likely that Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Republican Majority Leader, would follow in Reid’s footsteps and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.


At times, senators will vote not on whether to pass a bill, but to lay a bill or resolution on the table to delay its consideration (to “table it”). Technically, anything tabled can be brought up for consideration again (or taken off the table, in parliamentary terms). However, most of the time a vote to table a measure is a vote to kill it. Last year, for instance, the Senate held a vote to table Senate Joint Resolution 39. This resolution expressed disapproval over selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote to table it was a vote to kill it, so the vote was effectively a vote to support the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.


The Senate also has rules about how members should act during debates and floor action. There are also norms of civility in the Senate, which is why you may hear senators referring to someone with whom they are debating as “my good friend” or the “honorable gentleman.” A notable example of this aspect of Senate behavior coming under public scrutiny was when Senator McConnell invoked Rule 19 to prevent Senator Elizabeth Warren from continuing a speech about Senator Jeff Sessions. That rule specifies that one senator may not disparage another. Senator Warren appealed the ruling of the chair. In cases like this, the majority of the Senate can decide whether the chair was right. On a party-line vote, the Senate did uphold the decision that Senator Warren broke Rule 19.


The Senate is a deliberative body that prides itself on giving significant power to individual members and to having a strict code of civility. Some see the Senate’s rules and traditions as making it the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Others view them as byzantine procedures that frustrate the will of the majority. What do you think about how the Senate operates?


U.S. Regulatory Reform Tracker


Learn more about the Congressional Review Act, then check out these key regulatory reform bills considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Joint Resolution 43, Overturn rule prohibiting states from defunding Planned Parenthood: Passed 230 to 188 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that prohibits states from denying federal funding to family planning organizations for reasons unrelated to the quality of care they offer. This rule was aimed at stopping states from defunding Planned Parenthood.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 69, Overturn Alaska wildlife control rule: Passed 225 to 193 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on March 21, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would restrict the practice of killing predators such as wolves and bears in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.


U.S. House Bill 1009, Reform the regulatory process: Passed 241 to 184 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To place in statute a requirement that a bureau called the Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) must review proposed regulations that impose an annual cost on the economy of at least $100 million. Agencies must have considered alternatives, looked at costs, minimized the potential cost on society, and more. Agencies that have not done so must change their regulations to comply with OIRA's suggestions.The bill would expand OIRA's scope to independent agencies, such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.


U.S. House Join Resolution 83, Overturn workplace injury reporting rule: Passed 231 to 191 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2107 and 50 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 22, 2017


To overturn an Obama administration regulation that required businesses to record injuries and illnesses in the workplace and retain those records for five years.


U.S. House Bill 998, Create regulatory review commission: Passed 240 to 185 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To establish a commission that would review federal rules that should be repealed to lower the cost of regulation. The commission will prioritize examining rules that are older than 15 years and that impose a high cost or paperwork burden. Congress could repeal a rule recommended by the commission with a joint resolution. Agencies issuing new rules would be mandated to offset that new rule by eliminating a rule recommended by the commission.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 42, Overturn rule restricting unemployment drug testing: Passed 236 to 189 in the U.S. House on February 15, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 14, 2017


To overturn a Department of Labor regulation that allowed states to drug test applicants for unemployment benefits only if the applicants were suited for jobs that required drug testing. In effect, the rule being overturned would not allow states to use widespread drug testing for unemployment benefits.


U.S. Joint Resolution 40, Overturn ban gun possession for some Social Security recipients: Passed 235 to 180 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 57 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on February 15, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would prohibit Social Security Income and Disability recipients who are determined to have certain mental disorders from possessing a firearm. Under this rule, anyone in this category who possessed a firearm would be committing a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 36, Overturn methane flaring rule: Passed 221 to 191 in the U.S. House  on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that would require energy companies to reduce the release of methane when producing natural gas on federal and tribal lands. The rule would also impose royalty payments on some methane that has been released. This rule would supersede state regulations governing methane releases.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 44, Overturn BLM rule reducing local government role in resource management: Passed 234 to 186 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 7, 2017


To overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s “resource management” rule that would reduce the role of local governments in developing BLM plans and give greater weight to input from the public in the preliminary planning process. 


U.S. House Joint Resolution 57, Overturn federal failing school mandate: Passed 234 to 190 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017.


To overturn a Department of Education regulation directing states to identify failing schools using plans to measure the performance of groups of students according to federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 58, Overturn teacher preparation regulation: Passed 240 to 181 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 59 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on March 8, 2017


To overturn a Department of Education regulation mandating that states report on the quality of teacher preparation programs, with the possibility of funds being removed from states that do not meet federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution on 41, Overturn additional disclosure mandates on natural resource companies: Passed 235 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s rule that resource extraction companies (such as mining, energy, or timber companies) must disclose any payments, such as fees, made to foreign governments.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 37, Overturn mandatory reporting rule for labor issues: Passed 236 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 49 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 6, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s regulations that any company bidding on a federal contract over $500,000 must disclose any violations of labor law or alleged violations of labor law from the past three years.



U.S. House Joint Resolution 38, Overturn coal mining stream rule: Passed 228 to 194 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 54 to 45 in the U.S. Senate on February 2, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation mandating complex new rules on how coal companies dispose of mining waste near waterways. The rule also mandated that companies must extensively survey ecosystems prior to mining and then fully restore those ecosystems once mining is complete.


U.S. House Bill 78, Modify financial regulation procedure: Passed 243 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 12, 2017


To require that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determine the nature and source of a problem before it issues a regulation; issue a regulation only if the benefits justify its cost; assess alternatives to a regulation; and only promulgate regulations that are understandable. The bill also requires that the SEC review old regulations to determine if they are still needed or are too burdensome, and assess the economic impact and effectiveness of large regulations it proposes.


U.S. House Bill 35, Reshape federal regulation process: Passed 238 to 183 in the U.S. House on January 11, 2017


To alter how federal agencies issue regulations. This bill would require that agencies consider the cost of proposed regulations and issue less costly rules if possible, give judges wider leeway to strike down regulations, and prevent regulations costing a billion dollars or more from going into effect until any court challenges against them have been settled. The bill would also require that regulators consider new rules’ impact on small business, publish transparency reports, and write 100-word regulatory summaries in plain English.


U.S. House Bill 26, Mandate congressional approval of major regulations: Passed 237 to 187 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To require that Congress must approve “major” regulations before they go into effect. The bill defines these regulations as costing the economy $100 million annually, imposing a major cost increase on consumers, or significantly affecting U.S. economic productivity or competition.


U.S. House Bill 21, Allow review of last-minute regulations: Passed 238 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 4, 2017


To empower Congress to disapprove whole batches of new regulations imposed during the last days of a president’s term by agencies with a single roll call vote. Under current law, congress has the authority to invalidate "last minute rules" promulgated by an outgoing administration, but doing so requires them to be disapproved one at a time. This legislation would allow disapproval of all regulations submitted during the last 60 days of the congressional session that occurs during the final year of a president’s term.


Comment below to share what you think on regulatory reform!

President Trump's Appointment Confirmations Tracker



Check out these presidential appointment considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Senate Motion 89, Approve Dan Coats as Trump’s Intelligence Director: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 15, 2017


To confirm Dan Coats as the Director of National Intelligence.


U.S. Senate Legislative Document 86, Approve Seema Verma as Trump’s Medicare administrator: Passed 55 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on March 13, 2017


To confirm Seema Verma as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 79, Approve Rick Perry as Trump’s Energy Secretary: Passed 62 to 37 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2107


To confirm Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy.


U.S. Senate Motion 77, Approve Ben Carson as Trump’s HUD Secretary: Passed 58 to 41 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2017


To confirm Ben Carson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


U.S. Senate Motion 75, Approve Ryan Zinke as Trump’s Interior Secretary: Passed 68 to 31 in the U.S. Senate on March 1, 2017


To confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke as the Secretary of Interior.


U.S. Senate Motion 73, Approve Wilbur Ross as Trump’s Commerce Secretary: Passed 72 to 27 in the U.S. Senate on February 27, 2017


To confirm Wilbur Ross, Jr., as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.


U.S. Senate Motion 71, Approve Scott Pruitt as Trump's EPA Administrator: Passed 52 to 46 in the U.S. Senate on February 17, 2017


To confirm Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 68, Approve Mick Mulvaney as Trump's budget director: Passed 51 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on February 16, 2017


To confirm Mick Mulvaney as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.


U.S. Senate Motion 65, Approve Linda McMahon as Small Business Administrator: Passed 81 to 19 in the U.S. Senate on February 14, 2017


To confirm Linda McMahon as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.


U.S. Senate Motion 63, Approve Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary: Passed 53 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 13, 2017


To confirm Steven Mnuchin as the Secretary of the Treasury.


U.S. Senate Motion 61, Approve Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2017

To confirm Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 59, Approve Jeff Sessions as Attorney General: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 8, 2017


To confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.


U.S. Senate Motion 54, Approve Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary: Passed 50 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education.


U.S. Senate Motion 36, Approve Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State: Passed 56 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 1, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.


U.S. Senate Motion 35, Approve Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary: Passed the U.S. Senate 93 to 6 on January 31, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.


U.S. Senate Motion 33, Confirm Nikki Haley as UN ambassador: Passed 96 to 4 in the U.S. Senate on January 24, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Governor Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


U.S. Senate Resolution 32, Confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA Director: Passed 66 to 32 in the U.S. House on January 23, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 30, Approve John Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary: Passed 88 to 11 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm John Kelly as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.


U.S. Senate Motion 29, Approve Gen. Mattis as Defense Secretary: Passed 98 to 1 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense.


U.S. Senate Bill 84, Allow Gen. Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense: Passed 81 to 17 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017 and 268 to 151 in the U.S. House on January 13, 2017


To waive a provision in federal law that prohibits any military member from serving as Secretary of Defense within seven years of active duty. This bill would allow Gen. James Mattis, whom Donald Trump has selected to run the Defense Department, to serve as Secretary of Defense even though he has only been away from active duty for three years.


Comment below to share what you think of President Trump's appointments!


What’s Up with President Trump’s Budget?



Defense spending up. Big cuts to social programs. Federal funding for the arts on the chopping block.


You may have seen headlines or social media posts that give details about President Trump’s budget. Depending on where you stand, you may be cheering, weeping, or shrugging your shoulders. But what is actually going on with the president’s spending plan?


Officially, nothing is going on – yet. A 1990 law requires that the president submit a budget proposal to Congress by early February. Donald Trump has not done so (he wouldn’t be the first president to miss the deadline). In fact, his spokesman says that the president’s budget will be unveiled “later this year.”


Right now, the White House has asked agencies to find a way to increase defense spending by $54 billion and cut other spending by an equal amount.  That gives a broad idea of what the president will propose, but it does not give any details about what agencies may be targeted for cuts or what shape those cuts may take.


Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers.


The congressional budget is not even the final spending plan. It is, instead, a detailed outline of what spending should look like. If the resolution recommends changes to mandatory spending programs such as Medicaid and Social Security, Congress must pass those changes. For non-mandated spending, such as on defense or national parks, the congressional budget resolution provides a guide for appropriation committees to allocate actual spending amounts. The budget resolution does set forth special rules for consideration of some items, so it is a useful blueprint for Congress to take on future spending decisions.


It should be pointed out that this process is often ignored by Congress. Some years it does not pass any budget resolution. Instead, it simply passes appropriations bills to authorize a certain level of federal spending. We don’t know if that could happen this year. Given that the president is not close to submitting his budget resolution (remember, it was due in early February), chances are good that we’ll see some interesting maneuvers during this year’s budget process.


Comment below and share how you think President Trump and Congress should structure the 2017 federal budget!


U.S. Senate Motion 57: Affirm Senator Warren Broke Senate Rules


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. Senate, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Motion 57, Affirm Senator Warren broke Senate rules: Passed 49 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017


To uphold the ruling of the chair that Senator Elizabeth Warren broke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Senator Warren had been reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump had nominated to be Attorney General. The chair had ruled that by reading certain sections of this bill, Sen. Warren had disparaged her colleague, Sen. Sessions.


Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Motion 57!


Congress Busy Overturning Regulations


Updated February 24, 2017


Congress has been very busy since it convened in early January. Even before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of Congress were busy writing and voting on legislation. One area is getting a lot of attention from our federal legislators – overturning regulations using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).


Not only is it unusual for Congress to target a large number of regulations to reject, but using the CRA at all is quite rare. After the Republican sweep in the 1994 election, Congress enacted the CRA in 1996 as part of the “Contract with America.” Its provisions have only been used one time prior to this year. Since January, however, the House of Representatives has considered eight resolutions that would overturn Obama Administration rules. More are on the way.


Under the CRA, a majority in Congress has the power to pass a resolution that would undo any rule issued by a federal agency issued within the prior 60 legislative days. The agency is barred from ever again issuing a regulation that is similar to the one rejected. Unlike other legislation, this resolution cannot be filibustered in the Senate. The president must sign the resolution for it to take effect.


This year is the first time when party control of Congress and the presidency coincide to make the CRA workable in any significant way. Republican President Trump took office from his Democratic predecessor, whose administration issued a variety of controversial regulations during its final year in office. Last year, members of Congress were out of town a lot, so the threshold of 60 legislative days stretches far back into 2016 to cover numerous regulations issued by the Obama Administration. President Trump has signaled that he is willing to sign regulatory rollback resolutions, so the Republican majority in Congress has an unrivaled opportunity to strike back at Obama-era rules that they don’t like.


Stay tuned and check the Regulatory Reform Tracker for weekly updates on Congress' efforts to rollback and overhaul regulations!


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3: Move Forward with Obamacare Repeal


Donald Trump made repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, a central part of his winning campaign for president. Congressional Republicans have been working for years to repeal the law. Will 2017 be the year that Obamacare goes away?


In January, the Senate laid the groundwork for repeal legislation to proceed. It adopted a budget resolution for the U.S. Congress that makes it easier for Obamacare repeal legislation to proceed through the Senate. During consideration of this resolution, Democrats offered numerous amendments that, if adopted, would have effectively prevented Obamacare from being repealed. Senator Rand Paul also offered an amendment that would have capped federal spending, leading to a balanced budget by 2024.


These amendments all failed. It is doubtful the sponsors thought they would pass. Instead, they were likely offered as a way of putting senators on the record as opposing or supporting certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Here are some of the key votes that occurred during this early skirmish over Obamacare:


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Move forward with Obamacare repeal: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017


To approve a Senate budget that allows committees to prepare legislation to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Under this resolution, votes to repeal certain parts of Obamacare could occur by majority vote instead of being subject to a filibuster which would have to be overcome by 60 votes.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Kaine amendment to stop Obamacare repeal: Failed 48 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 5, 2017


To prevent the Senate from considering legislation to eliminate the Affordable Care Act's insurance subsides, its Medicaid enrollment expansion and more. This amendment would have changed Senate rules to effectively halt consideration of legislation to repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act using a budget reconciliation process that does not require a three-fifths majority to end debate and pass the bill.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Sanders amendment to prevent changes to entitlement programs: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 10, 2017


To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Social Security benefits, privatize Social Security, increase the Social Security retirement age, or reduce Medicare and Medicaid benefits.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Paul amendment to balance the budget: Failed 14 to 83 in the U.S. Senate on January 9, 2017


To amend a Senate budget resolution by adding provisions intended to generate a balanced federal budget by 2024 by capping federal spending. The amendment would also allow for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and its replacement simultaneously.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Klobuchar amendment to allow re-importing Canadian drugs: Failed 46 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017


An amendment to the Senate budget bill that would allow legislation to permit pharmacists, wholesalers, or Americans with a valid prescription to buy drugs in Canada and bring them into the United States.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Menendez amendment to prevent Medicaid funding cuts: Failed 48 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017


To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Medicaid funding for states that expanded their Medicaid programs in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This expansion was not mandatory for states. The federal government covered over 90% of the share of enrolling new Medicaid recipients who were able-bodied and made more than 138% of the federal poverty level. The federal government generally covers 43% of the cost of traditional Medicaid enrollees.


U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Gillibrand amendment to prevent repeal of Obamacare contraceptive mandate: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017


To prevent the Senate from considering legislation that would end the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance coverage of reproductive health services such as contraception, birth control, or maternity care.


U.S. House Resolution 11: Disapprove of UN Resolution Condemning Israel


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and check-in to the app to see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Resolution 11, Disapprove of UN resolution condemning Israel: Passed 342 to 80 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To express the sense of the House of Representatives that it opposes United Nations resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. When the U.N. Security Council passed this resolution in December 2016, the U.S. representative to the U.N. abstained from the vote. This allowed the resolution to be adopted after many past votes brought by Israel opponents were defeated by a US veto. Since a future repeal effort can also be vetoed by other Security Council members including Russia and China, it probably means the resolution will remain in effect indefinitely.





U.S. House Bill 7: Ban Federal Funding of Abortion


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and go to to signup and see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Bill 7, Ban federal funding of abortion: Passed 238 to 183 in the U.S. House on January 24, 2017


To prohibit using federal government money to pay for abortions. The bill would make permanent the “Hyde Amendment,” which has been attached to annual spending bills to prohibit federal funding of abortions. It (or another one-year Hyde amendment) would prohibit Medicaid or other federal programs from paying for abortions, and prohibit insurance companies from selling policies that pay for abortions through the federal health care law exchanges.


The Road Ahead for Neil Gorsuch


President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. What lies ahead on Gorsuch’s path to sit on the high court?

To become the ninth justice, Gorsuch must be confirmed by the Senate. Traditionally, nominees take weeks meeting individually with any senator who requests a meeting. After that, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings.


Judiciary Committee hearings have become “must see TV” for political junkies over the past few decades. This is a chance for senators to ask questions about a judge’s past rulings, his or her judicial philosophy, and anything else that a senator desires. A nominee may or may not answer these questions directly. For instance, it is a general practice for nominees to refuse to answer any questions about how he or she will rule on certain issues.

The committee hearings may last weeks. Once this step is completed, the committee will then vote on the nominee. A favorable vote will send that nominee to the full Senate floor. As has been the case with many recent nominees, we can probably expect that there will be something of a partisan divide when the Judiciary Committee votes. It is likely that every Republican will vote in favor of Gorsuch. Many, perhaps the majority, of Democratic committee members are likely to oppose him.


The real political drama will begin when the full Senate considers Gorsuch’s nomination. Currently, Senate rules allow a minority of senators to filibuster (or debate without a time limit) a Supreme Court nominee. The only way to stop this debate and proceed to a vote on the nominee is a successful cloture vote, which takes 60 senators to approve. Prior to 2013, senators could filibuster any judicial nominee. Harry Reid, who was the Democratic majority leader at the time, ended that practice.


Some Democratic senators have already indicated that they intend to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. One of their main complaints is that the Republican majority did not even schedule a committee hearing when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for this position last year. They contend that the seat is “stolen” and should not be filled by President Trump. An actual filibuster attempt against a Supreme Court nominee has rarely been attempted, however.


If 40 of these senators engage in a filibuster, then Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, could engineer a change in Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster option for Supreme Court nominees. Sen. McConnell has long been wary of changing Senate rules, and he has defended the filibuster in the past. But in the face of a filibuster over Gorsuch, he may expand on the precedent set by Harry Reid in 2013.


Some Senate Democrats are also wary of ending the filibuster. There are likely to be some senators who will vote against Gorsuch but who will not support a filibuster. In that instance, we would see at least 60 votes to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination, but fewer votes to approve Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Given that there are 52 Republicans in the Senate, approval of Gorsuch is almost assured. The real question is how many Democrats will join the Republicans in voting for him.


Do you think that Senate Democrats should filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination?


Reactions to Supreme Couty Nominee Neil Gorsuch Split Along Party Lines


On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.


As may be expected in these polarized times, reactions to Gorsuch largely fell along partisan lines. Republicans and conservatives praised him, while Democrats and liberals attacked him.


Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that Gorsuch is “a prepared, thoughtful, and careful jurist, who has demonstrated a strong commitment to textualism and originalism.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “Judge Gorsuch is a worthy successor to Justice Scalia, a committed originalist and a strong defender of religious liberty and states’ rights.” According to Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, “Gorsuch is a highly-regarded jurist with a record of distinguished service, rooted in respect for the law.”


Mark Joseph Stern at Slate wrote, “Gorsuch’s credentials are impeccable. His writing is superb, incisive, witty, and accessible in the style of Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan. In speeches and oral arguments, he comes across as thoughtful and fair-minded.”


Others hold a different view of Gorsuch. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Gorsuch of being “hostile to women’s rights,” and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that Gorsuch favored “corporations over workers.”


Senate Democrats expressed a varying range of opinions on Gorsuch, and on what should happen to his nomination. Some, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon, said outright that they would not support him.


Others expressed dismay at the process, contending that this nomination is flawed because last year Senate Republican’s refused to consider former President Obama’s nomination, Merrick Garland. “This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon


Taken together, it seems Senate Democrats may be poised to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, which, if successful, would require a supermajority to overcome en route to Gorsuch’s confirmation. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island contends that this is reasonable because “all of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees cleared a sixty vote threshold and President Trump’s nominee should adhere to the same standard.”


Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may also engineer a rule change eliminating the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, thereby lowering the votes required for confirmation to a simple majority.   (This would be similar to the rule change then-Majority Leader Harry Reid engineered in 2013 for lower court nominations).


The next few weeks should give us a better idea about how the Senate will proceed on the Gorsuch nomination.


Do you think Gorsuch is qualified to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court?


Trump Nominates Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court


Today President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. A Colorado native, Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. President George W. Bush appointed him to that position in 2006.


If approved, Gorsuch will fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia early last year. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill that seat, but the Republican majority in the Senate refused to give Garland a committee hearing, much less a vote on the Senate floor. Since then, the Supreme Court has been operating with eight members.


Garland’s nomination expired with the end of the previous session of Congress, giving President Trump an opportunity to name his own nominee for the seat. 


Gorsuch will spend the next few weeks meeting with individual senators ahead of his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Once recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a vote by the full Senate will follow.


The fifty-two Senate Republicans have the simple majority needed to confirm Gorsuch, but Senate Democrats have signaled that they will filibuster the nominee. A successful filibuster would require a supermajority of sixty votes to end debate and force a final vote. If Democrats go this route, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could pursue the “nuclear option” and move to end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid did something similar by ending the ability to filibuster lower court nominees.


All eyes are now on the Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They and the eighteen other committee members will be the first to provide ‘advice and consent’ on President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.


Congress Laying Groundwork for President Trump



In early January, members of Congress returned to Washington with an aggressive legislative agenda. Even though Barack Obama was still president during the first few weeks of the month, representatives and senators were busy passing laws that reflect the priorities of the incoming president, Donald Trump.


President Obama would have likely vetoed many, if not all, of the bills passed by Congress during this time. However, President Trump is almost certain to welcome them if they make it through both houses of Congress. These bills lay the foundation for presidential action during Trump’s first 100 days in office.


Here are some of the things that Congress has done so far:


Cleared the way for General Mattis to be Secretary of Defense: federal law prohibits anyone who has served in the military during the past 7 years from being Secretary of Defense. This prohibition would have disqualified Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, General James Mattis. Both the House and Senate passed a bill that essentially waives this requirement for Gen. Mattis.


Set budget rules for Obamacare repeal: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Senate rejected a series of amendments to its budget resolution that would have prevented that body from considering repeal legislation. These amendments were designed to highlight what Democrats consider problems with repealing the law, such as cutting Medicaid or ending the mandate for contraceptive coverage. When the Senate passed its budget bill, it set in motion a process that will allow certain repeal legislation to proceed with a majority vote. That will prevent Democrats from using a filibuster to stop such bills.


Revamped regulatory process: it has been a regular practice for presidents to propose a large number of regulatory changes during their final weeks in office. President Obama has been no exception, and his proposed regulations have drawn the ire of Congress. To end the “last minute” regulatory push by lame duck presidents, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow Congress to reject these rules as a whole. Current law allows Congress to reject rules one-by-one, but this is a time consuming process. The House also passed a bill that would require Congressional approval of regulations that would have an economic impact of $100 million or more. Another bill passed by the House would require the issuance of less-costly regulations, make it easier for judges to overturn new rules, and prevent large regulations from taking effect until court actions against them are completed.


What do you think should be the legislative priorities of President Trump and Congress?


What’s Going to Happen in the Lame Duck Congress?

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate return this week for a “lame duck” session of Congress. This session, held after the election but before newly-elected members are sworn in, has a number of important issues to deal with. With Donald Trump being elected president, however, Republicans are likely to make efforts to ensure that any high-profile controversies are moved into next year. They would much rather deal with President Trump in 2017 than with President Obama in the waning days of 2016.


Here are some areas where we could see movement before Congress adjourns in December:


Appropriations: A short-term spending measure to keep the government funded expires on December 9. If Congress and the president don’t agree on a spending plan by then, the government will partially shut down. Congress has two options: pass an omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through the end of this fiscal year, or pass a short-term continuing resolution that funds the government through the beginning of President Trump’s term. There are significant differences between the spending plan favored by Congress and the one favored by President Obama, especially over defense funding. These differences are likely to go away under President Trump, so expect Congress to pass a short-term spending measure and then make a longer-term deal with the new president.


Defense: legislation that authorizes spending on our nation’s defense is being held up by a provision that would exempt defense contractors from Obama Administration anti-discrimination rules. Republicans in Congress have inserted language in the bill that they say protects the religious freedom of contractors when it comes to dealing with gay and lesbian individuals. If Congress does not remove this language, it could lead to a presidential veto of the bill.


Iran: the Iran Sanctions Act expires at the end of this year. The House of Representatives has a bipartisan bill that would renew the sanctions for 10 years. Some Republicans in the Senate want a tougher measure.


Medical: there is bipartisan support for legislation that would remove federal roadblocks to approval of new drugs and medical treatment. This could be a rare area of agreement in the lame duck between Congress and the White House.


Supreme Court: Senate Republicans have refused to hold hearings or a vote on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. With Trump’s election, there is no chance that they will allow Garland’s confirmation in the lame duck session. President Trump will name his own nominee to fill this seat once he takes office in January.


Trans-Pacific Partnership: Trump never hesitated to express his disdain for this and other trade agreements. The Senate will not consider this trade accord during the lame duck session.


The Senate Agenda for 2017

Post-election update: Republicans won most of the key Senate battles on Tuesday, setting up a scenario where a Republican majority will serve with President Trump. It is unclear the extent of the majority, since two races are currently unresolved. Regardless of the outcome of these races, Republicans will not have enough senators to defeat Democratic filibusters. That means Trump will have trouble getting his policies through this chamber if he does not work across party lines. Because Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, it is likely that Trump will face a fight early in his term over filling this Supreme Court vacancy. The Senate is also likely to tackle an Obamacare repeal early in 2017. Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be the majority leader and New York’s Chuck Schumer will be minority leader.


What will the U.S. Senate look like when new senators are sworn in on January 3, 2017?


The fate of Republican control of the Senate depends on how races turn out in a few states, such as North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Democrats need to pick up four seats now held by Republicans (Tim Kaine, as vice president, would break any tie in a Senate divided 50-50 between the two parties). A Donald Trump win would mean that the Democrats need to gain five seats.


Because of the Senate’s rules and traditions, a switch in partisan control does not bring a major swing in policy direction. That is especially true in an evenly-divided Senate or one where a party has narrow majority. To advance a bill that has even a hint of controversy requires that the majority leader must find a super-majority. That is because a cloture motion, or motion to cut off debate on legislation, requires 60 votes.


Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is likely to be the majority leader if the Democrats take control of the Senate, and the minority leader if they don’t. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is almost certain to remain majority leader if his party retains control, but be demoted to minority leader if the Democrats prevail in enough close races to take the Senate.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Democratic Senate majority would not have a free hand to push through whatever legislation they favor. Even if they are in the minority, Republicans will have enough seats to block legislation and nominees through a filibuster. The reverse holds true for a Republican majority during a Trump administration. For a bill to emerge from the Senate, it takes bipartisan cooperation. Given this year’s election, that is likely to be in short supply no matter who sits in the White House.


The next president’s term could also see an end to the tradition that Supreme Court nominees are not filibustered. Republicans have already signaled that they may block any Clinton nominee to the high court, and Democrats may do the same under President Trump.


It is unclear how a Senate with a Republican majority would work under a Trump presidency. Some Republican senators, such as Jeff Flake from Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have openly rejected the GOP nominee. Others have wavered in their support of him. Would these senators feel party loyalty to President Trump, or would they feel free to oppose him when he is office just as they oppose him on the campaign trail? A Democratic majority under a Trump presidency would ensure numerous roadblocks for any legislative proposal that may come from the White House.


Regardless of which party holds power, some senators in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have said they would work with Vermont’s Bernie Sanders (who is an independent, but who caucuses with the Democrats) to push what they call a “progressive agenda” of a higher minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and a focus on the environment. These liberal senators have said that even under a Clinton presidency, they may oppose cabinet nominees who they view as too cozy with business.


Given the unpredictable nature of this election, no one can make a solid bet about which party will end up in control of the Senate in January 2017. Only once the votes are counted on Election Day will we know for sure.


What initiatives do you think senators should pursue next year?


What Will Happen in the House in 2017?

Post-election update: Democrats gained seats in the House of Representatives, but not enough to end the GOP majority. Working with President Trump, House Republicans will likely pass legislation to repeal Obamacare (in whole or part) early in 2017. They could also move quickly to enact Trump’s tax policies and pass legislation to deal with immigration. Due to Paul Ryan’s lukewarm support of Trump, there will likely be efforts to replace him as Speaker of the House. These efforts probably do not have enough support to have any effect.


With Election Day quickly approaching, it seems likely that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives. Even though this is a continuation of the situation that exists currently, that does not mean that all will remain the same in the lower body of Congress.


Even if Republicans keep control, for instance, that does not mean that House Speaker Paul Ryan is guaranteed to keep his job. Some House members are dissatisfied at Ryan’s lackluster support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. When the new session of Congress convenes in January, there will likely be some effort to replace Ryan as speaker. It is unlikely that a majority of the House members would support such an effort, however.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Republican-led House would act similar to what it has done under the Obama Administration. There would be major fights over the yearly appropriations bills, with the possibility of more partial-government shutdowns if the White House and Congress cannot agree. The House would also pass legislation, such as eliminating Obamacare, which members know will not survive the Senate or the president’s veto. Any major initiatives that President Clinton would propose would likely be stopped or scaled back by a Republican House. House Republicans would also be very likely to open numerous investigations into Hillary Clinton’s activities.


President Trump would find it easier to work with a Republican House. The House members would not be a stumbling block to his major initiatives. Of course, Trump could face issues from the group of Republicans who did not support him or who only offered tepid support. It is unlikely that a Republican-majority House would act as a rubber stamp for President Trump, but it is also unlikely that they would frustrate him the way they would try to do President Clinton.


In the event that the Democrats took the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi would probably retake the gavel as speaker. She would use that power to support President Clinton’s initiatives or to thwart whatever President Trump sent to Capitol Hill. Under Democratic control, any major investigations of Clinton would be few, if any.


In the House of Representatives, whoever controls the majority of seats controls the agenda in a way that is unlike the Senate. There are few procedural checks on the majority’s power in the House, and there is nothing like the Senate filibuster. The Speaker of the House has vast powers to determine what the body does and what legislation will pass. That makes having a friendly House majority very important for whichever candidate wins the White House.


What do you think the House agenda should be for 2017?


All about Iran: payments, assets, financial transactions, heavy water, and compensating terror attack victims


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress during the current legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 5931, Prohibit prisoner release payments to Iran: Passed 254 to 163 in the House on September 22, 2016

To prohibit the U.S. government from making payments to Iran to release U.S. citizens held as prisoners.


House Bill 5461, Require report on Iranian officials’ assets: Passed 282 to 143 in the House on September 21, 2016

To require the Treasury Department to compile a report on the assets held by certain Iranian officials and disclose this report to the public. Opponents of the measure contend it is a way to undermine the recent nuclear deal with Iran.


House Bill 4992, Restrict financial transactions with Iran: Passed 246 to 181 in the House on July 14, 2016

To authorize regulations that prohibit financial institutions from directly or indirectly transferring dollars to Iran until the president certifies it is not supporting acts of international terrorism or developing weapons of mass destruction.


House Bill 5119, Prohibit the purchase of heavy water from Iran: Passed 249 to 176 in the House on July 13, 2016

To prohibit any federal agencies from purchasing heavy water from Iran, which is a substance used to produce nuclear bombs. This would block part of the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.


House Bill 3457, Keep Iran sanctions until it compensates terror attack victims: Passed 251 to 173 in the House on October 13, 2015

To bar the White House from removing economic sanctions against Iran unless Iran compensates U.S. victims of terror attacks financed by the Iranian regime. Lifting economic sanctions is part of the deal the President negotiated with Iran on its nuclear bomb program. American courts have awarded $46 billion to over 1,300 victims of terrorist attacks sponsored by Iran. The White House says the bill would "obstruct implementation" of the Iran deal.


Keep Guantanamo Bay prisoners locked up, close Guantanamo Bay, terror lawsuits, and Middle East war funding



Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress during the current legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 5351, Prevent transfer or release of Guantanamo Bay detainees: Passed 244 to 174 in the House on September 15, 2016

To prohibit any federal funding from being used to transfer or release individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay.


Lamborn amendment to House Bill 5293, Stop transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees: Passed 245 to 175 in the House on June 16, 2016

To prohibit funds from being spent to survey, assess, or review potential detention locations in the United States for detainees currently held in Guantanamo Bay.


Nadler amendment to House Bill 4909, Allow closure of Guantanamo Bay: Failed 163 to 259 in the House on May 18, 2016

To remove the prohibition on spending funds to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.


Override veto of Senate Bill 2040, Allow terrorism lawsuits: Passed 348 to 77 in the House and 97 to 1 in the Senate on September 28, 2016

To override President Obama's veto of legislation that would allow civil lawsuits to be brought against foreign states for injuries, death, or damages as a result of an action of terrorism.


Lee amendment to House Bill 5293, Prohibit spending on war in Iraq and Syria: Failed 146 to 274 in the House on June 16, 2016

To prohibit funds from being used to carry out the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which authorized military action against terrorism. The current military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria are being undertaken under this 2001 authorization.


Watch list gun control, ammo regulation, Amtrak funding, ban transactions with Iran


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress during the current legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


McConnell Amendment to House Bill 2578, Screen gun transfers to suspected terrorists: Failed 53 to 47 in the Senate on June 20, 2016

To establish a procedure that lets a judge review and deny gun sales to someone who has been investigated as a known or suspected terrorist. An individual could dispute the charges, but if there is probable cause that the person has or will commit an act of terrorism, he or she could be arrested. This was a vote for cloture, or to bring debate to an end, and required 60 votes to succeed.


Feinstein amendment to House Bill 2578, Deny gun transfers to suspected terrorists: Failed 47 to 53 in the Senate on June 20, 2016

To give the Attorney General authority to ban firearm sales to someone Attorney General concludes is engaged in or preparing for terrorism. This was a vote for cloture, or to bring debate to an end, and required 60 votes to succeed.


Massie Amendment to House Bill 2578, Prohibit agencies from defining rifle ammunition as armor-piercing: Passed 250 to 171 in the House on June 3, 2015

To prevent federal agencies from defining ammunition as “armor-piercing” unless that ammunition is intended to be used in handguns. Many types of standard rifle ammunition in wide use could be restricted under rules recently proposed by the Obama administration, because possession of armor-piercing ammunition is subject to stringent regulations.


House Bill 749, Appropriate $1.88 billion for Amtrak: Passed 316 to 101 in the House on March 4, 2015

To authorize $1.88 billion in federal subsidies for Amtrak passenger rail service through 2019.


House Bill 4992, Restrict financial transactions with Iran: Passed 246 to 181 in the House on July 14, 2016

To authorize regulations that prohibit financial institutions from directly or indirectly transferring dollars to Iran until the president certifies it is not supporting acts of international terrorism or developing weapons of mass destruction.


Carbon restrictions, water rules, fossil fuel speech, offshore drilling, and cutting the EPA budget



Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress during the current legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 2042, Delay EPA carbon dioxide emission regulations: Passed 247 to 180 in the House on June 24, 2015

To extend the deadline for states to comply with new restrictions imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on carbon dioxide releases from existing power plants, and let state governors refuse to comply if the regulations would significantly raise electricity rates or reduce reliability.


Senate Joint Resolution 22, Reject expanded regulation of U.S. waters: Passed 53 to 44 in the Senate on November 4, 2015, and 253 to 166 in the House on January 13, 2016. Vetoed by the president on January 20, 2016.

To reject the Environmental Protection Agency's Waters of the United States rule that would expand the authority of the federal government to regulate all rivers, streams, and creeks regardless of whether they are navigable.


Amendment to Senate Bill 2012, Impose political speech restrictions on persons connected to fossil fuels: Failed 43 to 52 in the Senate on February 2, 2016

To prohibit any person or entity that earns or receives more than $1 million from “fossil fuel activities” from spending more than $10,000 communicating information or viewpoints on this issue to the public, unless the person files a special report with the federal government explaining their activity. This amendment required 60 votes for passage.


Amendment to House Bill 5538, Prevent oil exploration in the Atlantic: Failed 192 to 236 in the House on July 13, 2016

To prevent the federal government from spending funds to conduct geological activities that would support oil and natural gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.


Amendment to House Bill 5538, Reduce EPA budget by 17%: Failed 188 to 239 in the House on July 13, 2016

To reduce the amount of money appropriated for the Environmental Protection Agency by 17%.


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