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contested convention

contested convention

A “contested convention,” sometimes also referred to as a “brokered convention,” occurs when no single candidate for president secures the majority of delegates needed to win a political party’s nomination in advance of that party’s convention.

When that happens, a candidate might still get enough delegates by the time that the convention’s first ballot starts, but if that fails to occur, then the delegates become free to vote for whichever candidate they want, leading to a situation in which the convention becomes ‘contested’ or ‘brokered.’

In a contested convention, depending on the rules of the party, all regular delegates who were pledged to support a certain candidate during the primary voting process are “released” and can be convinced to support someone else.

For most people who follow politics, a contested convention conjures up images of “multiple ballots, horse-trading, smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, dark horses and other colorful elements that have enlivened American political journalism…,” as described by Pew Research.

Parties try to avoid contested conventions because they typically signal that a party is fractured, split and not unified going into a presidential election.

But that doesn’t stop the speculation that precedes almost every convention. From the Washington Post: “Speculation about a brokered, deadlocked or contested political convention surfaces every four years with the regularity of Brigadoon rising from the mist…. Such predictions show up in virtually every cycle when there’s even a hint of the possibility — usually early on, when a platoon of still-viable candidates suggests that a divided primary contest will fail to produce a winner.”

But as frequently as they’re predicted, contested conventions have almost never come to pass in the modern electoral system.

From The Week: “Since the GOP’s first convention in 1856, there have been 10 presidential elections in which no Republican candidate came into the convention with a majority of delegates. In seven of those elections, the eventual nominee was not the person who had the most delegates at the start of the convention. Of those 10 brokered conventions, six of them produced a Republican nominee who went on to win the general election Since 1952, no convention — Republican or Democratic — has gone beyond the first ballot.”

That year, in a hot and stuffy Chicago, Adlai Stevenson blew the Democratic convention wide open, and was eventually nominated for president on the third ballot.

In 1984, there was a close call when Democrat Walter Mondale arrived at the Democratic convention 40 delegates short of outright victory. But when the superdelegates supported him, it pushed him over the top to the nomination.

The modern primary system still awaits its first truly contested convention.

cuckservative

A pejorative used by alt-Right conservatives to insult moderate Republicans. It implies they have sold out and is similar to the term RINO. The term is a combination of ‘Conservative’ and ‘cuckold’ (one whose wife is cheating on him). It implies that those moderates are weak and effeminate.

The term originates from the white-supremacist blogospher which started using it in 2015. The term gained favor during the 2016 Republican presidential debates and has continued through the presidency of Donald Trump.

cromnibus

Legislation which combines a long-term omnibus spending bill with a shorter-term continuing resolution.

Marketplace: “It’s that time of year again. No, not the holidays, but Congress’ annual maneuvering to pass a budget. It has to figure out a way to keep the government running beyond Dec. 11, when current funding runs out. A lot of terms have been used to describe this annual ritual. Remember fiscal cliff? Now there’s a new one: Cromnibus. It’s part omnibus – that is, a long-term funding bill – and part continuing resolution, or CR – for short-term funding. CR plus omnibus equals cromnibus.”

Chicago-style politics

Used to characterize a supposedly offensive tough, “take-no-prisoners” approach to politics.

Jacob Weisberg: “Chicago-style politics, in common parlance, refers to the 1950s-1970s era of the Richard J. Daley machine… The strength and durability of the Daley machine was its ethnically based patronage network, a complex system of obligations, benefits, and loyalties that didn’t depend on televised communication with a broader public. It was a noncompetitive system that in its heyday had a lock on urban power and the spoils that went with it.”

Don Rose: “Time was the term ‘Chicago politics’ or ‘Chicago-style politics’ had a special meaning based on our history from the Al Capone years through the regime (1955-76) of one Richard J. Daley, aka Da Mare. Nowadays, like our unique political lexicon, it seems to have become a generic insult for just about any politics one disagrees with.”

cracker vote

Native Floridian white voters, whose families have typically lived in the state for generations.

Former President Bill Clinton told CNN in late 2008 that he would travel to Florida on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign: “If we’re trying to win in Florida, it may be that — you know, they think that because of who I am and where my political base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the ‘cracker vote’ there.”

Though the term “cracker” often has racial overtones, the Weekly Standard notes that Chiles used the word in a non-pejorative manner, including at least once during a 1996 campaign event with Clinton: “I know this fella from Arkansas. And I can tell you he knows how to speak cracker.”

Candy Desk

In 1965, Sen. George Murphy (R-CA) originated the practice of keeping a supply of candy in his desk for the enjoyment of his colleagues. In every Congress since that time a candy desk has been located in the back row of the Republican side, on the aisle and adjacent to the Chamber’s most heavily used entrance.

Cherokee Strip

From the Senate historian: “Occasionally one party maintains such an overwhelming majority that it has become necessary for majority party members to sit on the minority party side in the Senate Chamber. During the 60th Congress (1907-1909), 10 Republicans sat on the Democratic side, while during the 75th Congress (1937-1939), 13 Democrats sat on the Republican side. Such seating became known as the ‘Cherokee Strip,’ a reference to the region in Oklahoma, which was land belonging neither to the Indian Territory nor to the United States. By the 1930s, it had become the practice for senior senators to take front row, center aisle seats; junior majority party members who filled the “Cherokee Strip” were assigned either rear row or end seats on the minority party side.”

The last time a “Cherokee Strip” existed in the Senate Chamber was during the 76th Congress from 1939 to 1941. Six of the 69 Democratic senators sat with the 23 Republican and 4 Independent senators.

chum

Campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to get more involved in a campaign or bringing them to events.

Time notes that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s campaign “set up little tabletop trinket shops, known as ‘chum stores’ because all those little Obama-branded doodads aren’t only keepsakes; they are also bait. Every person who buys a button or hat is recorded as a campaign donor. But the real goal of the chum operations was building a list of workers, supporters and their e-mail addresses.”

carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, when it was first coined as a way of deriding someone from the northern states who migrated to the Confederacy to opportunistically benefit from the Reconstruction. Southerners who resented these interlopers started referring to them as “carpetbaggers,” a reference to the satchel – or cheap carpet bag – that held their meager belongings.

At the time, these so-called “carpetbaggers” headed south because the Confederate states needed significant capital investment, and there were financial opportunities that that didn’t exist in the north. Over time, this influx of northerners began to alter the political realities in the south, and the term “carpetbagger” became synonymous with an ill-intentioned foreigner who aligned with slaves, and had an aspirations to hold office in a region in which they were either not welcome or not part of the community.

Often confused with the term “scalawag,” the History Channel explains the difference. While a “carpetbagger” was an interloper who imposed their views on the south, a “scalawag” referred to someone already living in the south who was sympathetic to the northern cause, or specifically in this case, was anti-slavery.

Taken broadly, all northerners who went south in search of opportunity could be called carpetbaggers, but in reality the label didn’t apply to just anyone. To quote a 2014 Mother Jones article: “If you came South and joined up with the Democrats, you were a gentleman, not a carpetbagger.” Hence, it was a mostly partisan label, hurled by Democrats at Republicans.

Famous Restoration carpetbaggers included Adelbert Ames, Hiram Revels, Albion W. Tourgee, and Daniel Henry Chamberlain.

In more modern times, satchels made of carpet are no longer in vogue, and the term carpetbagger can refer to a member of any political party; nor is it limited to Republicans who migrated south. Modern carpetbaggers are sometimes accused of “district shopping.”

One of the most noted examples of modern carpetbagging occurred in 1964, when Bobby Kennedy sought the New York Senate seat. As noted by American Heritage: “…For controversy, comedy, and sheer audacity, no act of carpetbagging is likely to measure up any time soon to what happened when Robert F. Kennedy invaded the Empire State in 1964.” Of course, Kennedy ultimately appealed to New York voters, and he won the seat he sought.

High profile carpetbaggers abound. In 2014, when Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts decided to run for office in New Hampshire, instead of eschewing the charge, he embraced it. As reported in the Washington Post, Brown said “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever.”

In 1999, when Hillary Cilnton ran for the New York Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, charges of carpetbagging accompanied her bid, but were mostly shrugged off by voters. Hillary went on to win to election by 12 points.

cuff links gang

According to Time, this refers to the group of friends who helped Franklin D. Roosevelt run for Vice President in 1920 “and to whom he gave sets of cuff links in remembrance of that unfortunate political campaign.”

The gift of cuff links to political operatives has since become a sign of being an early insider with a politician.

cattle call

A public gathering of potential presidential candidates early in the primary season.

The term is derived from its use by actors to refer to the audition process in which a large number of usually inexperienced performers try out for a limited number of roles for a performance.

Checkers speech

The Checkers speech was a nationally-televised address made by Sen. Richard Nixon (R-CA) on September 23, 1952 as he was fighting to retain his spot on the national Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his supporters to reimburse him for his political expenses. In an attempt to stem the controversy over the fund, Nixon spoke to about about 60 million Americans about his humble upbringing which led to an outpouring of public support for him. He was retained on the ticket by Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the election in November 1952.

During the speech, Nixon said that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog which was named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.

The speech was an early example of a politician using television to appeal directly to the electorate, but has since sometimes been mocked or denigrated. “Checkers speech” has come more generally to mean any emotional speech by a politician.

cookie-cutter campaigns

A political campaign run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number of cookie-cutter campaigns in recent years is due, in large part, to the rise of political consulting on the local level.

But they’re also due to consultants having found campaign tactics that work again and again.

Walter Shapiro: “There is another intriguing reason why campaign tactics in both parties are about as creative and innovative as those employed by the French general staff during World War II. No major candidate is willing to risk his or her political future on untried campaign plans built around embracing new media and playing down TV spots. With a Senate seat or a governorship at stake, the political herd instinct is as powerful as it is debilitating. So every campaign resembles every other campaign with cookie-cutter ads since the creative potential of 30-second spots was exhausted decades ago.”

czar

An unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments. Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official title, but are referred to as czars by the media: For example, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is simply known as the drug czar.

Bernard Baruch, appointed by Woodrow Wilson to head the War Industries Board in 1918, was the first to be called a czar. The usage of the term, only one year after the Russian Revolution, was originally derogatory, although it is less so today.

The term czar was used more frequently in reference to appointed executive branch officials under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. In 1942, the Washington Post reported on the “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of our wartime economy.”

Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives. To use it, the House adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen to debate legislation subject to the simpler committee rules, and is often used to dispense with funding bills quickly. Non-voting delegates can vote in the Committee of the Whole, although their votes cannot be the deciding ones.

The U.S. Senate used the Committee of the Whole as a parliamentary device until May 16, 1930, when the practice was abolished with respect to bills and joint resolutions. The Senate continued to utilize the Committee of the Whole for consideration of treaties until February 27, 1986.

Copperheads

The Copperheads were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted a peace settlement with the Confederates.

Republicans started calling them Copperheads, likening them to the poisonous snake. Interestingly, they accepted the label but because the copperhead to them was the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges.

Perhaps the most famous Copperhead was Ohio’s Clement L. Vallandigham. Many counties in Ohio and Indiana continued to exist as a kind of solid south in exile for years along the Ohio River.

convention bounce

A convention bounce refers to the surge of support a presidential candidates may enjoy after the televised national convention of their party. The size and impact of a convention bounce is sometimes seen as an early indicator of party unity.

codel

Short for “Congressional Delegation”, and defined as a trip abroad by a member or members of Congress.

casework

casework

The term “casework” refers to assistance provided by members of Congress to constituents who need help while filing a grievance with the federal government or a federal agency.

In a lot of cases, constituents don’t know how to get help if they have an issue relating to federal government services or a problem with federal programs. “Casework” gives these constituents a chance to seek that help from their representatives in Washington.

Casework is an extensive and all-encompassing term that covers a lot of ground: “Each year, thousands of constituents turn to Members of Congress with a wide range of requests, from the simple to the complex. Members and their staffs help constituents deal with administrative agencies by acting as facilitators, ombudsmen, and, in some cases, advocates. In addition to serving individual constituents, some congressional offices also consider as casework liaison activities between the federal government and local governments, businesses, communities, and nonprofit organizations.”

In 2016, the MinnPost described casework as Congress’ most important function (that almost no one uses),” adding: “An enormous amount of time, effort, and resources flows toward casework, and many members of Congress will tell you that helping constituents is their most important responsibility.”

A 2017 report issued by Congressional Research Service highlighted some areas which see the most frequent use of casework:

Tracking a misdirected benefits payment; filling out a government form; applying for Social Security, veterans’, education, and other federal benefits, explaining government activities or decisions; applying to a military service academy; seeking relief from a federal administrative decision; and seeking assistance for those immigrating to the United States or applying for U.S. citizenship.

To let Americans know about the availability of casework, certain members of Congress provide information on their websites about how their constituents can seek out help, as seen here on Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin’s site. And here on the site of South Dakota Senator John Thune.

Of course, casework only goes so far. As explained by the New York Times, “caseworkers are wary of promising too much on this front. They are not supposed to talk to your lender; they can only speak to its regulator, often the comptroller of the currency. And they will usually do so only if they believe a legitimate question has gone unanswered.”

As Congress Foundation points out, Congress has its ways of making sure a constituents request for casework is legitimate: “Though many constituents come to their congressional office to ask for legitimate help with an agency issue, there are plenty of inquiries that are not serious or require a caseworker to step in. Asking constituents to sign a Privacy Release Form is a professional way a caseworker can ensure a constituent is serious about their problem and willing to provide the necessary information to pursue a solution.”

cats and dogs

Cats and dogs are are leftover “stray” bills on minor subjects saved for days when the House or Senate have light floor schedules.

coattail effect

A phenomenon whereby a political candidate or leader’s popularity leads to improved vote totals for fellow party candidates further down the ballot.

Origins and History

A coattail refers to a part of the coat extending below the waist that provides extra coverage. The coattail effect or the alternate phrase “riding on someone’s coattails” is a relatively recent entrant into the political lexicon. The concept’s origins are murky though U.S. Rep. Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 speech discussing General Zachary Taylor’s “coattails” seems to be the first notable use.

In this speech, Lincoln highlighted Democratic Party hypocrisy in their critiques of Whigs hiding under presidential nominee Taylor’s “military coat-tail.” The future president pointed to two decades of Democratic hiding under Andrew Jackson’s coattail as evidence of this hypocrisy. Lincoln’s use of coattail refers more to a presidential candidate providing cover for fellow party members rather than a rising political tide lifting all boats.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer points to the recency of the coattail effect’s use in political literature. In a search of all books from 1800 to 2008, there are no mentions of this phrase until 1947. There is a spike in the term’s use by 1957, which peaked by 1996.

The presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton illustrate positive and negative coattail effects. Eisenhower was a popular figure following his role in Allied victory in World War II. This popularity and his reluctance to political power contributed to his election in 1952 and Republican control of the House and the Senate.

Reagan’s appeal to conservative Democrats and Republicans helped him win the presidency in 1980. Republicans regained the Senate for the first time since Eisenhower’s first term due to the down-ballot effects of Reagan’s election.

Clinton emerged from a three-candidate race in 1992 with a Democratic Congress. After two years of an embattled presidency, Republicans retook the House and Senate by offering a Contract with America to counter what they viewed as presidential overreach on healthcare. Clinton’s struggles weighed heavily on Democratic congressional candidates.

Recent studies have raised questions about the power of the coattail effect. The University of Virginia Center for Politics published a report in 2011 that highlighted inconsistencies in a president’s impact on congressional races. Political scientist Robert Erikson’s 2016 study of the coattail effect found that Democratic votes for Congress fluctuate for both presidential popularity and evaluations of the likelihood of Democratic victory.

Examples

Fox 5 Atlanta (February 7, 2020): “Biden argued that he’s the only Democratic candidate who’d have a coattail effect for Senate candidates in battleground states and GOP-leaning states like North Carolina and Georgia.”

The Hill (June 18, 2016): “‘They’re whistling past the graveyard,’ said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, when asked about GOP skepticism of a presidential coattail effect in 2016.”

The New York Times (October 17, 1982): “But a poll by The New York Times indicates that the coattail effect is weak, with supporters of one Democrat often planning to vote a split ticket, and vote against the other candidate.”

checks and balances

checks and balances

“Checks and balances” refers to the Constitutionally mandated separation of powers that results from divided branches of government.

The U.S. Constitution divides power among the three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — to prevent any one from having too much power. Each branch is said to have the ability to check the power of the others, thereby maintaining a balance in the government.

Though it’s sometimes said the United States has three “equal” branches of government, in reality the power of each has fluctuated throughout history.

Examples of checks and balances include:

  • The president (Executive) is commander in chief of the military, but Congress (Legislative) approves military funds.
  • The president (Executive) nominates federal officials, but the Senate (Legislative) confirms those nominations.
  • Both the House and the Senate have to pass a bill in the same form for it to become law.
  • Once Congress (Legislative) passes a bill, the president (Executive) has the power to veto it.
  • The Supreme Court (Judicial) and other federal courts can declare laws or presidential actions (Executive) unconstitutional.

The idea of checks and balances in government dates back to ancient times, as described by History.com: “In his analysis of the government of Ancient Rome, the Greek statesman and historian Polybius identified it as a ‘mixed’ regime with three branches: monarchy… aristocracy…and democracy. These concepts greatly influenced later ideas about separation of powers being crucial to a well-functioning government.”

Years later, in his work “The Spirit of the Laws” in the 18th century, Enlightenment author Montesquieu codified the idea of “checks and balances” when he warned of the threat of despotism by suggesting that there should be different parts of the government to exercise legislative, executive and judicial authority, all under the rule of law.

Montesquieu’s suggestion was later adapted by James Madison who, often described at the Father of the Constitution, wrote: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Most historians agree that, like with any part of living history, the system of checks and balances has served our country well but goes through periods of stress, particularly during events like government shutdowns. As noted by Politico: “Our forefathers in their wisdom established a system of checks and balances in our Constitution to limit power in any one branch of government. That system has worked effectively for more than 200 years to limit power, but it also led to periods of legislative gridlock. We are in one of those periods of total gridlock with the current partial shutdown of the federal government. Each of the parties has dug in.”

Throughout the years, many have argued that the system of checks and balances is failing, as noted here, in reference to NSA’s controversial practice of telephone surveillance of U.S. citizens.

During the Trump administration, the system of “checks and balances” came under intense scrutiny, with a litany of articles suggesting the 45th president, with help from Congress, had placed too much power in the hands of the Executive branch.

The Bulwark: “The Trump administration’s radical expansion of executive power is beckoning what the Founders called “the very definition of tyranny.”

The Atlantic: “By the letter of the Constitution, and by the unwritten norms of American separation-of-powers governance, the main restraint on an overreaching, dishonest, or incompetent executive is a resolute legislative branch. But today’s legislative leaders—Mitch McConnell and his slim Republican majority in the Senate, Paul Ryan and his large Republican majority in the House—are ostentatiously refusing to play that check-and-balance function.”

Many blame the rise of intense partisanship over the last 20 years to further erosion of our system of checks and balances.

 

 

caucus

An informal meeting of local party members to discuss candidates and choose delegates to their party’s convention.

The term can also refer to informal groups of Members of the House of Representatives or the Senate used to discuss common issues of concern and conduct policy planning for its members. There are also regional, ideological, and ethnic-based caucuses in Congress.

The term comes from the Algonquian language and means “to meet together.”

William Harris: “The term Caucus is first attested in the diary of John Adams in l763 as a meeting of a small group interested in political matters, but William Gordon’s History of the Independence of the United States of America, 1788 speaks of the establishment of caucus political clubs as going back fifty years earlier than his time of writing in 1774, so a first-occurrence date for the caucus can be estimated in retrospect as early as 1724.”

Congressional Record

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the “Daily Digest,” which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.

The Congressional Record is available online from 1994.

cloakroom

In politics, cloakrooms are spaces adjacent to the chambers of the Senate and the House where politicians from both parties can gather to discuss Congressional business privately. There is a separate cloakroom for each political party. Put simply, a cloakroom is to politics what a breakroom is to a normal office.

Cloakrooms were first established in the late 1800s as actual places for members to store their coats, umbrellas, hats and other apparel, but that usage became obsolete as more office space was built over the years. With the creation of individual offices for members, cloakrooms were converted into places for members to gather to talk about legislation, meet privately to discuss issues facing Congress, make secret deals, or just vent to each other about Congressional matters.

These rooms are closed to everyone except for Senators, Representatives, Senate Pages, some select staffers, and they may even have their own private phone numbers.

An elaboration of life in the cloakroom from CNN: “Floor assistants and cloakroom attendants are among those who work in the rooms. Their duties include alerting lawmakers when votes are coming up, telling them whether the chamber will be open on a snow day and working with pages to deliver messages.”

C-SPAN explained up the cloakroom environment as “food, phones, frivolity, and fights. They are noisy, smelly, and cramped spaces. The House cloakrooms both have snack bars (basic diner food, e.g. hot dogs, sandwiches, and soups, and yes, they have to pay), but when they’re still voting late into the night, it’s better than nothing. Senators don’t have snack bars, but Senate catering sends left-over food platters from receptions to the cloakrooms, so there is usually something to nosh on.”

“All the cloakrooms have old-fashioned phone booths and the cloakroom staff tell Members which numbered booth they can use to take or make a call. There are stacks of flyers from the Whip offices about the floor schedule; from outside groups stating their position about that day’s votes, and copies of leadership Dear Colleague letters to their troops. The furnishings are modest, even a little shabby: large leather lounge chairs, sofas, and many ash-trays because that’s where all the serious smokers hang-out. Talk about a smoke-filled room, the cloakrooms are it! There are wall-mounted television sets and regular tiffs about the remote control. Sometimes sports events are favored over the floor proceedings occurring just on the other side of the door.”

And the New York Times described them this way in 1986: “The Republican and Democratic cloakrooms are situated just off the floor of each chamber, and there a handful of men and women scramble to keep the members abreast of activity…”

“Although members of Congress themselves use the rooms a lot less frequently that their predecessors of earlier eras did, many still come around on the House side to take advantage of snack bars in the cloakrooms and occasionally to watch a crucial baseball game specially broadcast into the rooms.”

cloture

“Cloture” is legislative procedural term that refers to a motion or process by which debate is brought to a quick end.

From the French word meaning “the act of terminating something,” cloture is “basically a vote to go ahead on a vote, a procedural oddity of the Senate that allows a majority leader to ‘push past a recalcitrant minority,’” as described in a Pew Research article from 2017.

Simply put, cloture is a “is a blunt tool for managing the Senate,” wrote Brookings Institute’s Sarah Binder four years earlier in The Washington Post.

While it’s true that most legislators would prefer to come to a consensus rather than force an end to floor debate, cloture is a tool that began over 100 years ago under contentious circumstances. The Senate’s own website explains: “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.”

It goes on: “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 first time that cloture was actually used was two years later, in 1919, when the Senate invoked the rule to end a filibuster of the Versailles Treaty.

One of the most notable uses of cloture occurred was 45 years later, in order to put an end to a 57-day filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Despite some important uses of cloture, over the decades it became clear that the two-thirds majority needed to invoke it was prohibitive. Indeed, cloture was only successfully used 4 times from 1917 to 1960.

As described here, the rule was finally changed in 1975:

“The majority needed to invoke cloture in the Senate remained two-thirds, or 67 votes, of the 100-member body from the rule’s adoption in 1917 until 1975, when the number of votes needed was reduced to just 60.”

As result of the change to three-fifths, cloture became more common, and was used a record 187 times during the Democrat-controlled 113th Congress, which served during the Obama administration, a period of intense filibustering by Republicans.

While the three-fifth rule for cloture passed in 1975 eased the threshold for invoking the rule, there’s an additional option at the disposal of the Senate, the so-called “nuclear option.”

Famously used by Senate Republicans to speed up Trump administration judicial nominees, the nuclear option allows a cloture vote to pass with a mere majority of Senators. Here’s how it’s characterized by Politico: “The nuclear option — a change of the Senate rules by a simple majority — gained its name because it was seen as an explosive maneuver that would leave political fallout for some time to come.”

Cloture, and its use to end objections to certain legislation or approvals of nominees, remains a lightning rod to this day, a contentious and highly partisan tool of the U.S. Senate.

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