Congresswoman Cori Bush and nearly 100 other House Democrats on Thursday urged their Senate counterparts to immediately eliminate the legislative filibuster, an archaic rule standing in the way of D.C. statehood, a major expansion of voting rights, labor law reforms, and other key priorities.
"There is this old, outdated, racist rule called the filibuster that has been used to deny our basic human rights, especially to people who look like me," Bush (D-Mo.), a Black woman, said during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol Building. "When it comes to eliminating the filibuster, everything we love is at stake."
"It's D.C. statehood, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal legal and immigration reform, gun violence prevention, workers' rights—or it's the filibuster."
—Rep. Cori Bush
In a letter (pdf) to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Thursday morning, 98 House Democrats argue that "there is simply no avenue for bold legislation that meets the needs of everyday Americans without ending the filibuster," which the lawmakers describe as a "relic of Jim Crow-era policies."
"This is an existential moment for our country," the lawmakers write. "For too many people in our communities, their very survival is at stake. Republicans are well aware of this reality. It is why they are passing legislation at the state level across the country in an attempt to suppress the votes of Black, brown, and Indigenous people. It is also why they are preventing the Senate from advancing critical legislation that can meet the needs of the people we represent."
"We urge Senate Democrats to do what it takes to pass an agenda that meets the needs of everyday people, including eliminating the filibuster," the letter continues. "What has become patently clear is that we cannot let a procedural tool that can be abolished stand in the way of justice, prosperity, and equity. We simply cannot afford such a catastrophic compromise."
The letter was sent hours before the House—without the support of a single Republican—passed legislation that would make Washington, D.C. the 51st U.S. state and grant full congressional representation to the district's roughly 700,000 residents.
But as Bush noted on Twitter, the statehood bill is destined for the Senate's crowded legislative graveyard if Democrats allow the filibuster to remain intact.
"It's D.C. statehood, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal legal and immigration reform, gun violence prevention, workers' rights—or it's the filibuster," Bush wrote.
It's DC statehood, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal legal & immigration reform, gun violence prevention, workers rights—or it's the filibuster.
— Congresswoman Cori Bush (@RepCori) April 22, 2021
Senate Democrats can abolish or weaken the filibuster with a simple majority vote, meaning they would need the support of every member of the caucus and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
"Democratic senators who defend the filibuster are protecting a legacy of racism, and are choosing to let an outdated rule block progress that would begin to address the challenges facing Black communities across the country."
—Scott Roberts, Color of Change
But at least two conservative caucus members—Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—have been outspoken in their defense of the filibuster even as the rule hobbles their party's ability to pass its agenda and potentially puts Democrats at greater risk of losing control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.
Scott Roberts, senior director of democracy and criminal justice for Color of Change, said in a statement Thursday that "Democratic senators who defend the filibuster are protecting a legacy of racism, and are choosing to let an outdated rule block progress that would begin to address the challenges facing Black communities across the country."
"Filibuster reform is critical for advancing racial justice," Roberts added.
In a report released earlier this week, advocacy group Fix Our Senate detailed how the legislative filibuster—which dates back to the early 19th century—became "the primary weapon used by racist, segregationist politicians to delay and restrict progress—primarily in the form of civil rights."
"The historical record is clear: there is a long and shameful history of segregationists and racists using the filibuster to block overdue progress on civil rights, voting rights, and other efforts to build a more inclusive democracy," said Fix Our Senate spokesperson Eli Zupnick. "Senators can protect the filibuster... or they can protect our democracy and the right to vote. They cannot do both."