National Press Club

Filibuster-proof Senate Possible, Agree Schumer, Ensign

October 22, 2008 | By Bill Miller

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and his Republican counterpart, John Ensign, R-Nev., agreed at a rare NPC breakfast "luncheon" Oct. 21 that Democrats likely will add to their Senate majority in the Nov. 4 election.

But will Democrats win the required 60 seats that would enable them to override a GOP filibuster?

Neither campaign chief would predict. Using the same words, both said, “It is possible.”

But Ensign indicated that there’s a good chance that his party could win as many as 45 or 46 seats, despite what he called “a tough atmosphere party for Republicans.” (Each party now holds 49, but two independents vote with Democrats.) And Schumer acknowledged that reaching 60 will be difficult, “given the ‘red’ terrain we’re operating in. … We have to win in deeply red states.”

“We feel very good that we’re going to pick up a large number of seats and have a successful election,” said Schumer.

Ensign, meanwhile, pointed to hotly contested races in which he claimed Republican candidates are winning or gaining – notably Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota.

Asked to predict states in which their candidates might pull upset victories, Schumer mentioned Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky. Ensign cited Colorado, Louisiana and New Hampshire.

Ensign warned of what he called the “dangers” of a filibuster-proof Senate, pointing out that even 57 or 58 seats could be enough for Democrats to achieve that status. Comprehensive energy legislation and the right of a secret ballot in union elections would be victims, he said; taxes and spending would rise. Schumer said that a filibuster-proof majority would allow Democrats to “get America moving again” by passing economic stimulus, health care, alternative energy, and education legislation.

Both senatorial campaign chairmen agreed that what Ensign called “toxic, gotcha politics,” has hurt recruiting of candidates for their parties. In answer to other questions, Schumer mentioned that the prospect of a heavy one-party majority will increase, rather than diminish, the role of moderates. And Ensign said that the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, by energizing the Republican base, is helping GOP Senate candidates.