Faced with the grim prospect that key items on President Joe Biden's agenda will face certain death by Republican obstruction, a growing number of Senate Democrats in recent days are joining with those already calling for abolition of the filibuster.
Amid the high likelihood that even the most modest Democratic proposals would fail to muster a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority in the Senate, centrists including Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have joined progressive colleagues in speaking out against the arcane procedure.
I’ve made up my mind.
We need to move this country forward, and that’s why I’ve decided to come out in support of eliminating the filibuster.
— Senator Tina Smith (@SenTinaSmith) March 5, 2021
"The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster," Smith asserted in a Thursday Facebook post, blasting the procedure as a longtime "enemy of progress." Arguing that "it has to go," Smith wrote that:
The filibuster didn't come from the Constitution, or from our founders. It grew up as tool developed by a minority in the senate—mostly white, racist Southern senators from the Democratic party—to protect their interest in owning and exploiting Black bodies.
After the Civil War, and passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and after a brief period of hopefulness for the future of Black Americans, the filibuster became an even more powerful tool, used to deny voting rights and the opportunity for Black people to own a home or land, and to build wealth and opportunity for their own families.
"Some will argue that the filibuster is a crucial stopgap, designed to protect the rights of the minority against an overweening majority that would trample those rights," wrote Smith. "I've not seen that. What the filibuster does is allow a minority of Senators to just say no to any idea they don't like. They don't have to negotiate because they can stop anything. [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell is the master of obstruction, but the big problem is that this is fundamentally undemocratic."
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 5, 2021
We're in one of those rare periods when Democrats control the presidency, House, and Senate. So there's no reason to compromise on a $15 minimum wage, or $1400 survival checks, or abolishing the filibuster. Why are we negotiating with ourselves?
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) March 5, 2021
In an interview with Mother Jones' Ari Berman published Wednesday, Klobuchar also said she "would get rid of the filibuster."
"I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill," she added, referring to the For the People Act, landmark legislation that would expand voting rights, rein in dark money, and strengthen federal ethics rules. On Thursday the House of Representatives voted to approve the measure—which is backed by Biden and a majority of the American people—without a single Republican vote.
However, the bill faces certain defeat in the Senate unless the upper chamber's Democratic majority ends the filibuster first. On Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted a list of other progressive agenda items she said will "end up in McConnell's legislative graveyard" due to the filibuster:
What will end up in McConnell’s legislative graveyard?
The Equality Act
HR1 and voting rights
Justice in Policing Act
Equal pay and paid leave
And much, much more. The only path forward for our agenda is to end the filibuster.
— Pramila Jayapal (@PramilaJayapal) March 5, 2021
Numerous Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), oppose ending the filibuster. And while it may not be possible to abolish the procedure, they can substantially weaken it by taking steps including requiring two-fifths of the Senate—or 40 members—to continue a debate instead of 60 to end it, returning to the three-fifths "present and voting" standard, and reducing the 60-vote supermajority threshold to 55 senators.
"The same filibuster that blocked civil rights legislation a generation ago will be used to block the Equality Act, the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," lamented Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) on Thursday night. "But it doesn’t have to be this way."