Sen. Elizabeth Warren's decision to call for the end of the filibuster is a smart move that may help her break out of the pack of rivals.
Up until now, I've observed an odd aspect of the Democratic primary, as candidates have increasingly been embracing policy radicalism only to follow up with procedural timidity. Even as he proposes ideas such as socialized health insurance and free college, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has said "I'm not crazy about getting rid of the filibuster." In reality, as long as the filibuster remains, it will take 60 votes to pass major legislation, which will cripple any attempt to enact the Sanders agenda — or anything close.
In a field dominated by senators, Sanders has not been alone. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has said he's worried that if Republicans gain unified control of Washington, as they had in 2017, they could implement what he considers a dangerous agenda were in not for the 60-vote threshold. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has insisted, "if you don't have 60 votes yet, it just means you haven't done enough advocacy and you need to work a lot harder."
It should be said, of course, that the president does not determine Senate rules, which are decided ultimately by a majority of senators. The Senate map is no cakewalk for Democrats in 2020, and even if they end up with a majority, it is likely to be slim, and any larger majority will have to involve electing candidates in more conservative states who won't be eager to go nuclear to pass, say, the Green New Deal. So even if Democrats have a big year in 2020, they are unlikely to have the votes to ditch the filibuster.
But in a crowded Democratic field in which several candidates are endorsing a significant transformation in the role of government, there are decreasing returns for every new policy proposal that gets rolled out. For months, I've been thinking there was a big opening for a candidate to make the case that they were willing to do what it takes to implement their agenda. So it was very smart for Warren, D-Mass., who has struggled to separate herself from other candidates running on similar ideas, to take this stance.
Warren can now stand next to Sanders on a debate stage and say: "We both agree about fighting income inequality, providing healthcare and free college to everybody, and taking on Wall Street, but unlike my opponent, I recognize that none of this agenda will be possible unless we change the way the Senate operates so that we can enact it into law."
It's possible that the issue of filibuster reform is more important among liberal activists and pundits than it is among actual primary voters. So the Warren gambit may not ultimately improve her fortunes. But it was a position well worth taking, with limited down side.