Chris Dodd gathered with the Democratic Senate freshman class on Tuesday night at a dinner organized by Mark Warner to persuade them to back off their push to change Senate rules when the chamber returns in January, the first opportunity there will be to do so.
Dodd, who is giving up his Connecticut Senate seat following a 36-year congressional career, argued that those who have yet to serve in the minority should be careful tampering with the rules.
"I made a case last night to about ten freshman senators, you know, you want to turn this into a unicameral body? What's the point of having a Senate? If the vote margins are the same as in the House, you might as well close the doors," Dodd told reporters in the Capitol.
"Those ideas are normally being promoted by people who haven't been here in the minority and don't understand how the rules, if intelligently used, can help protect against the tyranny of the majority and cause things to slow down," said Dodd.
The freshmen are beginning to be persuaded, Dodd said. "I think they're beginning to understand it. And as I said to them, part of it is we're better propagandists for the Republicans in this election cycle than they are -- 'We're this party of melancholy, kind of hangdog in a sense.' This has been an incredible Congress," he said, "and I've never served in a more dynamic process where more has gotten done."
Dodd said that he didn't stay for dinner, "only for cocktails, then they threw me out," he joked. "Mark Warner has some people over periodically. Mark and I are old friends, you know. Mark used to work with me. The first 19 amendments I offered as a freshman House member, Mark Warner takes credit for, as a staffer for me."
Dodd also speculated that the makeup of the Senate in the next session, if the GOP picks up a few seats, may paradoxically ease some of the obstruction. "Once the 40 number is gone, when you have the 40 number, you've got much more discipline, then everybody is critical. If you're 42 or 38, or you're 45 or 47, you know, [Republicans think], 'Wait a minute, don't tell me my vote is absolutely critical. I've got a lot more flexibility to be much more independent than if I'm at 40.' So I think you're going to see a changed minority in the coming days."
On Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) a longtime Senate veteran, said he was doubtful Democrats would succeed in changing the filibuster.
"I haven't thought that much about it, primarily because I don't think we'll get it done," he said. "It's a huge problem, but doing something about it is hard, very hard."
Dodd conceded that he sympathizes with the frustration evident among the younger members and guessed that there was only a minority of the Democratic caucus that opposes changing the rules. He also said the he was open to changing certain rules to make the Senate move faster, as long as the 60-vote threshold stays in place.
One of those rules changes could come in September when the Senate votes to eliminate "secret holds," a rule that allows one anonymous senator to hold up nominations or bills without giving a reason why or even putting their name to the hurdle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has backed the effort to reform the filibuster, said Wednesday that he'd schedule a vote in the fall. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), and Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) have gathered more than 60 backers for their elimination of the secret hold.
"During the next work period, I am committed to having senators vote on whether or not to end the use of secret holds in the Senate," Reid said. "This bipartisan proposal is a step in the right direction to put transparency above secrecy."
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