Ryan Grim, The Intercept

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough actively organized against Democratic efforts to reform the filibuster throughout 2013, working closely with a bipartisan group of senators hoping to stave off the rules change, MacDonough told a law school audience during a 2018 commencement address at Vermont Law School.

By 2013, Senate Democrats faced a long backlog of judicial and executive nominees, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thwarting the party’s efforts to confirm the Obama administration’s nominees at every turn. Outside of a few holdouts, Democrats in the Senate were pushing to eliminate the filibuster on judicial and executive appointments below the Supreme Court level. MacDonough played a highly political role in the intense dispute, she recounted.

MacDonough said in her commencement speech that while her nominal job was to assist the elected senators in the body, she felt her true allegiance was to the institution of the Senate, which is cloaked in a heavily contested mythology. “I represent the interests of my unseen client, the institution of the Senate itself. While serving its hundred members on a day-to-day basis, I still represent the Senate,” she said.

“It was the protection of the Senate’s rules and precedents that brought me into conflict with the Senate majority back in 2013 when talk of overturning the Senate’s cloture rule for nominations by what is called ‘the nuclear option’ was revived,” she continued, referring to the parliamentary procedure that lets the Senate override a standing rule by simple majority. “It was my duty to advocate for preservation of that rule and in doing so, I worked with all the gangs.”

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