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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talks to reporters following the weekly Republican policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talks to reporters following the weekly Republican policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Strom Thurmond Disagrees': Historians Refute McConnell Claim That Filibuster Has 'No Racial History'

"Historian of the 20th century South here. I dispute Mitch's statement. The filibuster has a ton of 'racial history.'"

Jake Johnson

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday made the sweeping claim that the legislative filibuster has "no racial history at all" and further insisted that historians don't dispute his view—an assertion that historians immediately disputed.

"Strom Thurmond disagrees," tweeted historian Patrick Wyman, referring to the late Republican senator from South Carolina whose 24-hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 remains the longest in U.S. history.

During a press briefing Tuesday, McConnell offered a full-throated defense of the filibuster amid growing calls by Senate Democrats to significantly weaken or abolish the 60-vote rule, which in its current form gives the minority party enormous power to block legislation. Progressive advocacy groups and some Democratic lawmakers have taken to describing the filibuster as a "Jim Crow relic" to denote its past use as a weapon against civil rights legislation.

"It has no racial history at all. None. So, there's no dispute among historians about that," said McConnell, who stood by the GOP's intention to use the filibuster to block the For the People Act, Democratic legislation aiming to expand ballot access as Republicans press ahead with sweeping voter suppression measures at the state level.

"Historian of the 20th century South here. I dispute Mitch's statement," responded Charles Westmoreland, a professor of history at Delta State University in Mississippi. "The filibuster has a ton of 'racial history.'"

Kevin Kruse, professor of history at Princeton University, offered a non-exhaustive list of filibuster use against civil rights and anti-lynching legislation over the past 150 years:

Adam Jentleson, executive director of the Battle Born Collective and the author of a new book on the history of the Senate, wrote Tuesday that "McConnell's argument that the filibuster 'has no racial history at all' is the new 'the Civil War wasn't about slavery.'"

"For more than a century the filibuster was widely understood to be primarily dedicated to maintaining white supremacy and blocking civil rights," Jentleson noted, quoting a defense of the filibuster offered in 1949 by the late Democratic senator and arch-segregationist Richard Russell of Georgia.

In recent weeks, McConnell has repeatedly risen to the defense of the legislative filibuster and threatened to unleash "chaos" on the upper chamber if Democrats target the 60-vote rule, which is currently standing in the way of immigration and labor law reform, gun safety legislation, climate action, and other top priorities of the majority party.

"McConnell is scared," argued Eli Zupnick of the advocacy group Fix Our Senate. "He knows the filibuster is his key to maintaining power from the minority and preventing Dems from delivering on their promises, and he sees his grip on that weapon of partisan obstruction slipping away."


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