Jim DeMint Vows To Shut Down Senate

If South Carolina's Jim DeMint has his way, the Senate won't be conducting any business unless he approves of it.

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint says he will use Senate rules to stop any legislation not approved by both parties from proceeding to a vote:

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Bret Bernhardt, DeMint’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail to GOP aides that his boss would place a hold on all legislation that has not been cleared by both parties by the end of the day Tuesday.

Any senator can place a hold to block legislation – and overcoming that would require the Senate to take time-consuming steps to invoke cloture, which would require 60 votes.

With the Senate slated to adjourn Thursday untiil after the elections, DeMint’s stance could mean trouble for Democrats if the two parties don’t quickly agree on a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past Sept. 30. And that could mean the demise of a slew of other stalled and largely non-controversial bills that both parties are looking to clear before Election Day.

“The Executive Committee of the Senate Steering Committee has asked the Steering Committee staff to hold all bills that have not been hotlined by close of business Tuesday,” Bernhardt said in the e-mail, referring to the conservative advisory committee that DeMint chairs.

One can hardly blame DeMint for doing this. He believes, probably correctly, that it is in the GOP’s interest to simply run out the clock on the legislative year and block the Democrats from getting anything else done. And, the Senate rules allow him to do so, although I do have to agree with what Steven Taylor said yesterday about the Senate “hold” practice:

There is no justification for giving one Senator the power to obstruct a nomination, or to put a hold on a bill.

Of course, there’s little incentive for reforming rules like this because every Senator wants to be able to have the hold power, and especially the “anonymous hold” power, in their back pocket in case they want to use it. It’s hardly a good way to run a government.

The hold process is fundamentally different than the filibuster. At least with a filbuster, the minorty that holds up business must be comprised of at least a substantial pluarlity of Senators. Ideally, I would prefer to see filibusters really be filibusters. If that were the case, I would suspect that you’d see much more bipartisan cooperation on legislation in the Senate, and far less use of the filibuster. Nonetheless, I think much of the criticism of the filibuster process in recent years is really just a reflection of how deep the partisan divide in Washington is right now. Moreover, it’s fairly clear that any effort to change the current filibuster rules is unlikely to succeed.

A rule that allows one Senator from a state of 4.5 million people to block the Senate from considering any legislation he doesn’t approve of is, quite simply, fundamentally different from the filibuster and, also, absurd. Under it’s most extreme use, one Senator could stop a bill even it was supported by all 99 of his comrades (barring a rule change, of course). It may be part of the Senate rules, but anyone who thinks that this is how the Founders intended the Legislative Branch to function doesn’t understand history.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    I’ve seen ads by Grassley (R) here in Iowa where he is talking about making changes to curb this practice.

  2. ponce says:

    Sounds like the Senate needs to limit how many holds each Senator can place per session.

    OT:Rasmussen has Obama at 50% approval for the first time in 6 months.

  3. reid says:

    “One can hardly blame DeMint for doing this”, only if one doesn’t mind cynical politics applied to Senate business. This anonymous hold nonsense seems ripe for removal.

  4. mpw280 says:

    I thought the democrats had shut down both the house and senate already. They have vowed not to vote on anything serious (ie game changing for the election) until the lame duck session starts. Now if the democrats choose to use a lame duck to force through some really poor and expensive legislation that they ordinarily wouldn’t push through due to reelection concerns then stopping up the house and senate might not be a bad thing.
    Also, if it was ok for dems to use this trick, and they did, then why shouldn’t republicans use it as well, neither side of the senate will rewrite the rule so it is open for use by both sides.

  5. Wayne says:

    Putting a limit on number of holds would mean that a Senator only had to submit one more bill than that limit.

    It is a courtesy to waive many Senate rules in order to allow legislation to proceed faster. Like any courtesy, if someone abuses it then that courtesy can be taken away.

    Couldn’t this read “Harry Reid vows to shut down Senate”? After all he would be insisting on pushing through legislation that both Parties haven’t agreed on or letting the Senate shut down. Of course the Senate won’t be shut down in any case but that is the argument being made.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    “One can hardly blame DeMint for doing this.”

    I suppose you can’t if you have no interest in good governance. It’s typical of the state the GOP is in these days. His action is only going to call attention to this fact. I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s a good idea Doug.

  7. @stackiii says:

    For what it’s worth, the way I heard the story told is that DeMint will block any legislation that the two parties’ leadership blocs haven’t agreed to consider. So it’s not an arbitrary, random leveling of all legislative efforts by one Senator from a state with 4.5 million people in it.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    @stackiii says:
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 14:47

    “DeMint will block any legislation that the two parties’ leadership blocs haven’t agreed to consider…So it’s not an arbitrary, random leveling of all legislative efforts ”

    Yeah there’s a huge difference, any fool could tell you that.