Progressive Group Gears Up To Kill Senate Filibuster

Progressive Group Gears Up To Kill Senate Filibuster


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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A national network of progressive activists is looking to take an active role in a Democratic effort to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate.

Indivisible, the Democratic-oriented organization founded in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as part of “the resistance,” outlined its plan to eliminate the filibuster in an email to supporters.

In its rationale, Indivisible envisions a scenario in January 2021 in which Democrats have won control of the entire federal government by holding the House of Representatives while winning the presidency and retaking the Senate majority.

“Our newly elected leaders have a narrow post-election window of opportunity to enact progressive legislation, including major structural reforms that will finally get our democracy working for the people,” the email said. “That means things like health care, the Green New Deal, voting rights expansion, immigration and human rights, fair election maps, gun violence prevention, and every issue you care about. These ideas are popular, and should be achievable.

“But wait: the picture isn’t quite as rosy as it looks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (ha!) waves his hand and says one magic word, and suddenly all of our legislation is stopped in its tracks,” the Indivisible email added.

“What’s the magic word? Filibuster.”

Indivisible noted that the filibuster is not based in law or the Constitution but rather simply Senate rules.

Once a parliamentary rarity, use of the filibuster has skyrocketed in recent decades. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regularly used the filibuster when Republicans were in the minority during much of the Obama administration, so as to block passage of Democratic legislation.

“That’s why we’re launching our FiliBUSTED campaign. We need to start getting our 2020 candidates on the record in support of abolishing the filibuster when they take office in 2021, so we can hit the ground running for the people as soon as possible,” the email said.

Indivisible said that it was raising funds to pay for video and email tools to support its campaign.

Meanwhile, Indivisible isn’t the only one on the left moving to kill the filibuster.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the leading Democrats running for president, has said that she would seek the end of the filibuster as part of her plan to enact new gun safety measures.

“I will do everything I can by executive order, but I will also lead on the argument of getting rid of the filibuster so that by a majority we can do what the American people have sent us there to do. The filibuster is blocking action on guns,” Warren said. “It’s part of the way that the gun manufacturers hold Congress enthralled, and we’ve got to stop that.”

Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State and until he dropped out last week another Democratic presidential candidate, also seeks to kill the filibuster so as to pass legislation to address his signature issue of climate change, as well as other major problems.

“This is not a moment for inincrementalism. We need big action on climate change, guns, health care. None of those are possible if we allow Mitch McConnell to have the filibuster,” Inslee said. “And we have to get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster, as you know, allows Mitch McConnell with only 40 votes to prevent even bipartisan measures from come to the Senate.”

Inslee said he is not happy with other Democrats running for president who are not supportive of eliminating the filibuster.

“Listen, I mean, I think [Joe] Biden is concerned about eliminating the filibuster. Cory Booker is concerned about — their argument is: You’re talking about radically changing the way the U.S. government has worked for centuries because you’re frustrated with Mitch McConnell.

“Look, I’ve been against the filibuster since 2009. It hasn’t been part of American history 200 years actually just a few decades. Now it’s being used totally differently than it was envisioned to be used,” he added. “It’s not in the U.S. Constitution. This is just a rule. This is an anti-democracy action. I know this is radical, but I believe one person should have one vote. And one senator should have one vote. And no other senators should get 1.5 votes. That’s what a filibuster does.”

Even former senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who led Senate Democrats both in the minority and majority until his retirement in 2017, has come out in favor of doing away with the filibuster to achieve Democratic priorities.

McConnell, meanwhile, must be quite worried that Democrats could a) retake the Senate and b) follow through on killing the filibuster, because–quite surprisingly–he published an op-ed article last week in The New York Times warning Democrats to leave the filibuster alone.

Some see McConnell’s arguments as nothing more than self-serving, however, given that he’s taken Senate obstruction to new heights: including the denial of a hearing for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

“There’s a strong degree of irony to McConnell’s arguments: Even as he’s pushing for Democrats to keep the filibuster in the name of preserving Senate rules and tradition, he’s personally done significant damage to congressional norms,” journalist Li Zhou wrote in Vox.

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