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Udall Filibuster Effort Falls Short; Lujan Grisham Noticed

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Sen. Tom Udall’s plan to blunt the impact of a filibuster roared into the Senate at the beginning of January and went out with a sigh on Thursday.

Senators did, in fact, change the chamber’s operating rules per Udall’s request, but not before gutting the heart of his proposal — a requirement that senators who want to override a simply majority vote with a filibuster go to the floor and speak endlessly, just like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

The rules adopted Thursday are mostly designed to speed up business, but don’t do a whole lot to diminish the minority party’s ability to obstruct legislation. In a nutshell, the agreement alters the way the Senate handles nominations, conference committees and motions to proceed to debate on legislation. The changes will also make filibusters more transparent and bring objectors to the chamber for actual debate.

Many liberals and left-leaning special interest groups described the rules reform enacted Thursday as inconsequential. Common Cause, which has sued to challenge the constitutionality of the filibuster, called the rules changes a “capitulation” by Democrats who were reluctant to use a so-called constitutional — or “nuclear” option — to change the rules with just 51 votes instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

In the end, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who torpedoed Udall’s grand plans for filibuster reform. Although Reid had threatened to use the nuclear option for months — and appeared to endorse Udall’s proposal in a floor speech last fall — it now appears he was bluffing to get Republicans to agree to the series of lesser changes.

“I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold,” the Nevada Democrat told Ezra Klein of the Washington Post on Thursday before the vote. “With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.”

Despite the dramatic weakening of his proposal, Udall can still rightly claim credit for forcing the debate and making the Senate do something — anything — to shake things up in its perpetually moribund chamber.

“Clearly, people thought that things are not working and we need to change the way we do business, and I think we took a step on that,” Udall told me after the vote. “I think we made progress. It isn’t everything that I want, but it’s seldom you get everything you want. I’m not done fighting to change the way we do business.”

Udall demurred when I asked him if, specifically, he would try again at the beginning of the next Congress — if he is re-elected in 2014 — to go to bat for the talking filibuster.

“I’m going to continue fighting for a Senate that isn’t a graveyard for good ideas, for a responsive Senate and for the things we told the American people we would do that we haven’t done,” Udall said. “It was a victory for the Senate, a victory for the American people and I feel good moving forward.”

Michelle Lujan Grisham, the newest member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, is already getting noticed in Washington.

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Democrat’s fellow House freshmen voted Lujan Grisham class president for the second session of the 113th Congress (an honor also bestowed on Sen. Martin Heinrich when he was a House freshman in 2009).

Over inaugural weekend, Lujan Grisham appeared on MSNBC’s “Up” with Chris Hayes to talk about the freshman class and challenges for the new Congress.

And last week, Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call named Lujan Grisham one of 10 freshmen to watch in the 113th Congress. Here’s what the newspaper said about the Albuquerque-based congresswoman:

“Lujan Grisham, who was elected by her peers to be freshman class president in the second term of the 113th Congress, hails from a diverse, Albuquerque-based district that could be viewed as a microcosm of the Democratic coalition: urban and suburban, with a growing minority base that values progressive politics as well as regional traditions. Her service in New Mexico’s Aging and Health departments also gives her experience into premier political issues Congress will grapple with.”

Congratulations to Stephanie Valencia of Las Cruces who has been promoted to a big job in the White House.

Valencia, previously the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, has been promoted to acting director. Valencia came to the White House after the 2008 presidential campaign, on which she served as deputy director of the Latino Vote Program.

Prior to that, Valencia was press secretary for then-Sen. Ken Salazar.

E-mail: mcoleman@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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