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Sen. Tom Udall: ‘I have spoken to a number of Republicans who are not happy with the rules’

4276250629_bcfb69d9bb_m.jpgSen. Tom Udall is a member of the Rules Committee whose loud exasperation with the filibuster led, in part, to today's hearing on the issue. Udall favors what he calls "the Constitutional option" -- and what others call "the nuclear option" -- to reform the practice: At the beginning of a new Congress, a simple majority of senators can vote new rules into place. Udall would like to see them reform the filibuster. We spoke briefly this afternoon, and an edited transcript follows.

The first witness at this morning's hearing was former-Vice President Walter Mondale. He was, as I understand it, one of the senators who contributed to the 1975 reform of the filibuster that brought the number of votes necessary to break a filibuster down from 67 to 60. What can be learned from that?

Vice President Mondale was a key witness, and he made some very good points about the way we need to proceed. His most important point is that a majority vote at the beginning of a Congress can change the rules. That is allowed. He used it when he pursued reform back in the 1970s. He was a senator then and he teamed up with Sen. James Pearson, a Republican from Kansas, to push for reform of the filibuster rule. He offered a motion at the beginning of that Congress to change the rules. That's the constitutional option. It's how they put a cloture rule in in 1917. It's how we made modifications in 1975.

I hadn't known that Mondale had a Republican co-sponsor on his bill.

That's exactly the spirit that I'm trying to bring in reform. I think reform of the rules can bring us back to bipartisanship. If we all analyze where we are and what's happening and why the system is broken, we're stepping out of the day-to-day fights of the Senate and trying to make the institution work better.

I think a lot of people, however, believe that your proposed route will end up in a partisan vote where 55 Democrats vote the filibuster out of existence and 45 Republicans vote to preserve it. Would you support the effort if that was the outcome?

I support the idea whether I'm in the minority or majority. A majority of senators should be able to adopt rules at the beginning of each Congress. Hopefully it'll be bipartisan.

Have any Republicans at all come forward to say they agree with you and they would also like to see the filibuster reformed, if only so that they can govern when they retake the majority?

I have spoken to a number of Republicans who are not happy with the rules. Whether they'll take the next step and vote to change them is the big question. The Senate as an institution is broken. We're not doing the work of the American people and the rules are being abused. The only way to get us back to the traditions where the Senate is doing the work of the American people is to change the rules.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 19, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews , Senate  
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