The Senate website defines the filibuster as an “informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.” This device is meant to prevent the party in the Senate minority from being completely overpowered by the majority party.
Prior to the election, the Indivisible Project, a movement dedicated to advancing the election of progressive candidates, explained why the filibuster is bad news for Democrats:
“It’s simple: none of the progressive issues that Democratic candidates and congressional leaders are discussing today will become law unless we do something about the filibuster.”
“If [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell expects to be the Grim Reaper of progressive policies, the scythe he’ll use is the Senate filibuster. Unless we change the rules.”
With a 50-50 balance of power in the Senate, Democrats control the upper chamber by the slimmest margin possible.
Current Senate rules require a minimum of 60 votes to pass legislation. Some Democrats have hoped to abolish the filibuster so that only a simple majority of 51 votes (50 Democratic senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote) would be necessary to advance their progressive agenda.
Their latest challenge is that two Democratic Senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have both quite strongly announced their opposition to abolishing the filibuster.
Just two months ago, a representative for Sinema told The Washington Post’s White House reporter, Seung Min Kim, that “Kyrsten is against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster.”
"Kyrsten is against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster.”https://t.co/0wZD3dibEO
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) January 25, 2021
Up until then, conservatives had been counting on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to save us from being overrun by leftist lesiglation. Manchin won re-election in 2018 in a state that went overwhelmingly for former President Donald Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020 and over 41 in 2016.
Shortly after the announcement from Team Sinema, Politico reported that Manchin was “emphatic” that he “will not vote to kill the filibuster.” Asked if there were any scenario in which he would change his mind, the senator replied: “None whatsoever that I will vote to get rid of the filibuster.”
Protecting the filibuster is essential to protecting us from the tyranny of the majority.
Even with the filibuster in place, Democrats can do and have already done a lot of damage. But their major radical initiatives, such as the Election Reform bill which passed the House earlier this month, granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and stacking the Supreme Court, can be blocked by the Republicans.
Naturally, Democrats are trying to exert maximum pressure on Sinema and Manchin to change their minds.
Politico has interviewed several black civil rights leaders to find out what they plan to do about this. According to Politico, “top [civil rights] officials framed the choice as existential for a party that depends on Black and brown voters — and they are planning pressure campaigns privately and publicly to make that clear.”
Rev. Al Sharpton plans to hold town halls and rallies in Sinema’s and Manchin’s home states. He said, “The pressure that we are going to put on Sinema and Manchin is calling [the filibuster] racist and saying that they are, in effect, supporting racism. Why would they be wedded to something that has those results? Their voters need to know that.”
Sharpton cautioned Democrats that if they fail to end the filibuster, then “civil rights leaders might have less reason to help generate enthusiasm and turnout in the 2022 midterm elections without being able to point to actual laws Democrats passed.”
Sounds like a threat.
He added, “Many of us, and certainly all of us in the civil rights leadership, are committed to policies and laws and causes, not to people’s political careers. We’re not into that. We want to change the country. And if there is not feasible evidence that we’re doing that, it is not in our concern to be aggressively involved.”
Sinema and/or Manchin may yet flip, but I would be willing to bet it wouldn’t be because Al Sharpton and his merry band of civil rights leaders come to their states and call them racists.
Although politicians are famous for flip-flopping, after putting out such a strong statement of opposition as her representative did in conversation with the Washington Post reporter, I would be surprised if Sinema caved. Sharpton’s actions might just make her dig in her heels a little deeper.
Manchin, on the other hand, strikes me as less resolute than Sinema. However, he did say he was “emphatic” he wouldn’t vote to end the filibuster.
There is another option. The Senate could potentially create a carve-out specifically for voting rights legislation, a measure they’ve taken before. The Senate has created exceptions to the filibuster in the past for confirmations of Supreme Court nominees and for budget reconciliation (which is how the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill was passed).
Manchin is currently the only Senate Democrat who is not a co-sponsor of the voting reform bill known as S. 1.
On Wednesday, Manchin told reporters, “I think all of us should be able to be united around voting rights, but it should be limited to voting rights.”
But if the bill were to be limited to votings rights, according to CBS News, “it would strip provisions related to campaign finance and ethics reform, which are key priorities for progressives.”
In a Tuesday statement, “Manchin expressed concerns about S. 1, and said that he would support bipartisan legislation on voting rights.” The statement said:
As the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, we must work toward a bipartisan solution that protects everyone’s right to vote, secures our elections from foreign interference, and increases transparency in our campaign finance laws. Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government.
He issued another statement on Thursday in which he reiterated his opposition to creating a carve-out to the filibuster rule specifically for voting rights. He noted that would be “like being a little bit pregnant.” You either kill the filibuster or you keep it.
Let’s hope that both he and Sinema stand by their pledges not to abolish the filibuster. All Republican senators, even those whose votes can’t always be counted on, such as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are unanimously opposed to ending the filibuster. They are also opposed to the voting reform bill.
Sinema and Manchin are the only thing standing between us and the enactment of the Democrats’ entire radical agenda. Let’s hope they stand strong.