More Maher Idiocy: Senate 'Never Used To Have' The Filibuster

NewsBusters readers know there's almost nothing I like doing more on a Saturday than exposing the ignorance of Bill Maher.

On HBO's "Real Time" Friday, the host came through like he always does showing his total lack of knowledge concerning how bills move through the Senate as he told the American Spectator's John Fund "they never used to have" the filibuster (video follows with transcript and commentary):

BILL MAHER, HOST: That shows how dysfunctional our government is, and it is partly because of this filibuster. The headline in the paper was jobs bill. 50 to 49. Fails. How could it fail 50 to 49? That’s 50 for. Used to be if you had 50 votes then there was, they brought in the Vice President, who's a Democrat, to break the deadlock and that was that.

Yes, he really did say the Vice President would have to vote if there was a 50 to 49 "deadlock."

And this man has his own nationally televised show each week.

I guess it's beyond his intellectual capacity to realize that 50 to 49 isn't a deadlock, and that the Vice President is only called in to decide a tie. 

After all the nonsense that's come out of this man's mouth over the years, why should we expect him to understand something that simple?

But it gets better:

MAHER: There has been a quiet coup in this country where you now need 60 votes. We never voted on this idea that you need six. Why should this? This is not.

JOHN FUND, AMERICAN SPECTATOR: Bill, how many times, the Constitution..

MAHER: Yeah, the Constitution says a simple majority in the Senate. That's not what we have anymore.

Minutes later as the debate about this issue raged on:

Maher: First of all, you're talking as if the U.S. Constitution and this particular bill are the same thing.

FUND: You said it would pass. It wouldn't have.

MAHER: Well, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t. The fact it didn't pass, Harry Reid changed his vote. It becomes a procedural matter at some point. Yes, it would have passed if they did not have that filibuster hanging over their head which they never used to have hanging over their head.


Never? Really?

What liberals like Maher - who of course hate the filibuster when they're in the majority - but love it when they're not! - refuse to accept is that this procedure has been in existence since our nation was founded.

As the Senate's own website explains:

Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster -- from a Dutch word meaning "pirate" -- became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.

In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.

In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, he threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton rebuked Clay for trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate.

Three quarters of a century later, in 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as "cloture." The new Senate rule was first put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Even with the new cloture rule, filibusters remained an effective means to block legislation, since a two-thirds vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next five decades, the Senate occasionally tried to invoke cloture, but usually failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a 57 day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators.

Many Americans are familiar with the filibuster conducted by Jimmy Stewart, playing Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra's film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but there have been some famous filibusters in the real-life Senate as well. During the 1930s, Senator Huey P. Long effectively used the filibuster against bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor. The Louisiana senator frustrated his colleagues while entertaining spectators with his recitations of Shakespeare and his reading of recipes for "pot-likkers." Long once held the Senate floor for 15 hours. The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina's J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

As such, and quite contrary to what most liberals like Maher believe, it's not the filibuster that's "new." It's the ability to end it via a cloture vote that was first enacted in 1917 and amended in 1975.

And yes, also quite contrary to what this nincompoop said, both changes were voted on.

Color me tremendously unsurprised that like so many things, Maher was totally uninformed about this critical part of civics.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.