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Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks in favor of abolishing the filibuster at an April 22, 2021 news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks in favor of abolishing the filibuster at an April 22, 2021 news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images) 

As Frustration Grows Over GOP Obstruction, Progressives Intensify Demands to Kill Filibuster

"It makes no sense that one member of the minority party can trigger a minority veto. That's not what people voted for."

Brett Wilkins

Citing the likelihood that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will obstruct a bipartisan House bill that would create a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, progressive lawmakers and campaigners in recent days intensified demands to end the filibuster.

"There are Republicans who still refuse to acknowledge that Biden won the election. And we're supposed to think that they'll magically work with us on passing our agenda?"
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

House lawmakers voted 252-175 last Wednesday to establish an expert commission to probe the events of January 6, when a mob consisting mostly of supporters of former President Donald Trump and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen stormed the Capitol, resulting in five deaths, a delay of the certification of then-President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, and Trump's subsequent impeachment

Thirty-five House Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting for the bill. However, it is highly unlikely that the measure will garner the requisite support of 10 GOP senators needed to avoid a possible filibuster, as McConnell (R-Ky.) appears poised to use the ultimate obstructionist weapon to torpedo the bill. 

GOP intransigence has sharpened Democratic opposition to the filibuster, which is especially robust among progressive lawmakers and campaigners.

"The American people voted for progress, and we need to deliver," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) asserted Sunday. "It makes no sense that one member of the minority party can trigger a minority veto. That's not what people voted for."

Noting that "there are Republicans who still refuse to acknowledge that Biden won the election," Rep. Pramilia Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted Monday that the Senate must "end the filibuster so we can get to work." 

That work includes passing the For the People Act (pdf), a sweeping pro-democracy bill that would expand voting rights including for former felons, curtail partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics rules, limit money in politics and implement the DISCLOSE Act, and make Washington, D.C. a state—among other reforms.

Although the House passed the bill in early March without a single Republican vote, the threat of a GOP filibuster bodes ominously for its Senate prospects. This has increasingly spurred Democratic lawmakers and pro-democracy campaigners to link the possibility of legislative success with ending the filibuster. 

Appearing on WCVB's "On the Record" Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, "I'm ready to sign up and say it's time to get rid of the filibuster."

"If you can get a majority in the House, get a majority in the Senate, and get the president of the United States to sign off, that should be enough to advance legislation," Warren argued. "And this piece of legislation for an independent commission, that's a good starting place—a reminder why the filibuster needs to go."

Opponents reiterated the filibuster's racist roots—it has been used to defend slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and opposition to civil and voting rights legislation—in calling for its abolition.

"It's important that we not continue to allow the filibuster to be a tool used to suppress the right to vote, that Black people have fought and died for," Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) told Axios on Thursday.

Others reminded voters of McConnell's infamous vow to obstruct then-President Barack Obama's agenda via the filibuster, with former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich tweeting Sunday, "Now, McConnell is doing the same thing to Biden."

One formidable obstacle impeding potential efforts to end the filibuster is opposition from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). At a virtual statewide convention of the Arizona Democratic Party on Saturday, committee members passed a resolution calling on Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.)—who has refused to clearly state his stance on the issue—to vote to eliminate the filibuster from Senate rules. 

Prior to the convention, hundreds of progressive activists rallied in downtown Phoenix Thursday to urge Kelly and Sinema to end the filibuster.

"The filibuster has been used to stop the Voting Rights Act," Rev. Reginald Walton, executive director of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, said at the event. "The filibuster has been used to stop the Anti-Lynching Bill. Guess what happens when that happens. People are hurt!"

"They want to mute the voices of Black people," Walton said of Republicans. "They want to mute the voices of Brown people. They want to mute the voices of LGBTQIA people. They want to mute your voices and we cannot let that happen!"

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