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Kill the Filibuster

Demonstrators calls for the abolition of the Senate filibuster at a June 10, 2021 protest in New York City. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Biden Dodges Issue, Progressives Urge Dem Senators to 'Repeal the Filibuster'

"Our democracy is at stake," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "The last thing we want to see is wonderful speeches and public-facing statements, but no actual legislative movement on voting rights."

Brett Wilkins

As U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday implored Congress to pass two landmark pro-democracy bills—the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act—scores of advocacy groups joined progressive lawmakers in urging Senate Democratic leadership to abolish the filibuster, which time and again has been used to thwart progressive legislation. 

"Passing the For the People Act is indeed a national imperative, but the only way to do so is to repeal the filibuster."
—Rep. Mondaire Jones

In an impassioned Tuesday afternoon speech in Philadelphia, Biden excoriated efforts by Republicans and the previous administration to overturn the results of the 2020 general election and disenfranchise millions of voters, calling GOP voter suppression bills a "21st-century Jim Crow assault" on democracy.

Biden called passing broad voting rights legislation a "national imperative." But he dodged the filibuster issue, failing to mention it in his address. When asked about it by reporters afterward he said, "I'm not filibustering now."

Progressive lawmakers and advocates, however, argued that ending the filibuster is an indispensable step to ensure passage of voting rights and other pro-democracy legislation that otherwise would not garner the requisite support from 60 senators to hold a vote. They pointed to GOP senators' recent blocking debate of the For the People Act—which passed the House—via the filibuster to underscore the need to end the racist-rooted obstruction vehicle.

"Passing the For the People Act is indeed a national imperative, but the only way to do so is to repeal the filibuster," tweeted Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) after Biden's speech. "Anyone who says otherwise is missing the point."

In a call to end the filibuster, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that "the White House must use every piece of leverage it has to protect the right to vote. Our democracy is at stake. The last thing we want to see is wonderful speeches and public-facing statements, but no actual legislative movement on voting rights."

Fix Our Senate, Battle Born Collective, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Demand Justice, Indivisible, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Stand Up America, and over 80 other advocacy groups sent a letter (pdf) to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday calling on him to move to abolish the "outdated and abused" filibuster.

"Protecting Americans' voting rights and strengthening the fundamentals of our democracy should not be partisan issues," the letter states. "However, the unfortunate reality is that [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and his colleagues think voter suppression and gerrymandering are good for their political party. They want to continue to use the filibuster as their preferred weapon to silence voters."

The letter continues:

Republicans' insistence on obstructing the majority's will in the U.S. Senate is matched by their effort to suppress the people's vote in state legislatures. As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, 14 states have enacted more than 20 laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote. The burden will disproportionately impact Black and brown voters. Together, it creates a dangerous moment for American democracy and Americans' basic rights, one from which we may not return.

We agree with your repeated promise that "failure is not an option" when it comes to voting rights. To ensure progress in the face of partisan obstruction, we... urge you to hold another vote on voting rights legislation like the For The People Act before the August recess. Further delay risks a decade of Republican-controlled gerrymandering and Republican-controlled state voter suppression laws taking effect.

"If, as expected, Sen. McConnell and his Republican caucus again filibuster voting rights legislation—or once again filibuster simply allowing debate to begin—we urge you to move quickly to protect our democracy by eliminating the filibuster as a weapon that Sen. McConnell can use to block voting rights legislation and other urgent reforms," the letter concludes. "The filibuster cannot be allowed to stand in the way of Americans' voting rights and our democracy."

Common Cause president Karen Hobart Flynn said in a separate statement that "the For the People Act has already passed the House. Republicans filibustered it last month. If the Senate can bypass the filibuster to send core elements of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan to President Biden's desk, it ought to be able to do the same for anti-corruption legislation that protects the freedom to vote, breaks the grip of big money in politics, and ends gerrymandering."

All it would take to end the filibuster is the political will to do so and the support of conservative Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), both of whom oppose abolition.

As progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann noted on Tuesday, "because the filibuster is built into Senate rules and not a 'law,' it can be changed with a simple majority of Senate votes: 50 plus one," meaning Vice President Kamala Harris. "It needs to be changed now."

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