Filibuster reform is dead. Long live filibuster reform.
As expected, Democrats tried and failed on Wednesday night to change Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority. But it was a close call: Only Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) broke with their party to defeat the effort. If Dems had been able to swing just two more votes to their side, they could have broken the filibuster — at least on election issues.
That left some anti-filibuster observers expressing a sort of guarded optimism. "It's cold comfort, but from where we were in, say, 2012 or 2016, it's much more shocking that 48 Senate Democrats supported a rules change to pass voting rights than that two didn't," New York Times columnist Ezra Klein wrote on Twitter. "This isn't the sort of defeat that should discourage. This is the sort that should mobilize. Democrats don't need 10 or 20 more Senate seats to pass these bills. They need two. That's it."
Adam Jentleson, a former staffer for the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the author of Kill Switch, a history of the filibuster, was even bolder: "The filibuster is a dead man walking. The only remaining question is who wields the knife and to what end."
My prediction: It will happen in 2025. Republicans will do it. And they might do it — in a horrific irony — in order to pass "election integrity" legislation.
That's pretty specific, so here's my reasoning: Democrats are on track to lose their "trifecta" control of the federal government during this year's midterm elections — they'll probably lose the House and could lose the Senate too. It only makes sense to blow up the filibuster if your party has the trifecta: Why make a ruckus in the Senate if the House won't pass your legislation, or if the president will veto it? The next chance for Republicans to unify the government is in 2025. Given President Biden's approval ratings these days, it could well happen.
But wait. Haven't Senate Republicans just spent the last few days speechifying about the glories of the filibuster? Sure. But filibuster politics eventually makes hypocrites of us all. And on things that conservatives really want — like tax cuts or confirming Supreme Court nominees — Republicans have already created or taken advantage of existing carve-outs to the rule.
These days, conservatives want one more thing — laws to crack down on (nearly non-existent) election fraud. That will probably remain true as long as Donald Trump remains the preeminent power in the GOP. If he wins election in 2024, he'll almost certainly demand an end to the filibuster. He'll probably get it.