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A protest outside the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

A demonstrator holds a sign during a California Poor People's Campaign protest outside the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on July 26, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California Progressives to Feinstein: Support Nixing Filibuster for Voting Rights—or Resign

"If you can't or won't," nearly 70 groups wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, "please step aside so that someone more willing can take your place."

Jake Johnson

Dozens of grassroots advocacy groups representing more than 150,000 Californians demanded Tuesday that Sen. Dianne Feinstein step down if she's unwilling to support—at the very least—a voting rights carve-out for the filibuster, an archaic Senate rule that Republicans have used to tank several pro-democracy bills in recent weeks.

In a letter to Feinstein, more than 65 progressive organizations including Indivisible East Bay and the Poor People's Campaign warned that the GOP's aggressive voter suppression efforts and redistricting schemes nationwide mean that "we are headed toward permanent minority rule over much of the country and therefore over Congress and the presidency—a minority rule which will make a mockery of the idea that citizens have the right to determine how they are governed."

"We need you to step up and fight for our democracy."

"The Republican Party has prevented votes on the For the People Act, on the Freedom to Vote Act, and on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," the letter notes, referring to Democratic bills that the GOP has filibustered. "Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic leadership has missed deadline after deadline. In August, the census was finalized. Shortly afterwards, Republicans began gerrymandering congressional districts. In state after state, they have ensured that Democrats will be mathematically prohibited from winning elections, even when their total number of votes cast statewide far exceeds that of their opponents."

While expressing gratitude that Feinstein has thrown her support behind all three bills, the groups argue that the senator has "refrained from naming the solution: the filibuster must not be allowed to stand in the way."

"We need you to step up, now," they wrote. "We need you to call for the swift passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And we need you to clearly and unequivocally call for abolishing or providing a voting rights exception to the Senate filibuster so that this may be accomplished. We need you to step up and fight for our democracy and for the United States of America. If you can't or won't, please step aside so that someone more willing can take your place."

Feinstein said in a statement earlier this year that she's open to reforming the filibuster and acknowledged that Republicans have abused the 60-vote rule to "prevent votes on important bills." But in the same statement, the six-term senator said she doesn't "want to turn away from Senate traditions."

Tom Benthin, one of the leaders of Indivisible Sonoma County, implored Feinstein to "draw upon her seniority and leadership to champion the immediate passage" of key voting rights bills, "in particular by stating her willingness to either abolish or create an exception to the filibuster for voting rights legislation."

"The fundamental right to free and fair elections is under attack," said Benthin. "Republicans in state legislatures across the country have been enacting laws that will obstruct people's right to vote, allow voter intimidation, gerrymander Congressional districts, and give states the ability to reject valid election results. The Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will protect our elections from these threats, but Senate Democrats must pass them soon."

Read the groups' full letter:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

We, the 69 undersigned advocacy, civic, and environmental groups in California representing over 150,000 of your constituents, ask that you, publicly and by the end of November, call for the swift passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. We further ask that you clearly and unequivocally call for abolishing or providing a voting rights exception to the Senate filibuster, which is being used to block consideration of both bills. If you are unwilling to take these steps to protect our democracy, we ask that you resign and allow Governor Newsom to appoint a successor who is willing and able to fight for the survival of our country.

We and many other groups have written to you a number of times throughout the year. We have been in regular conversation with your staff, both in California and in Washington, DC. Our members have called, written, and demonstrated. We have done this because our democracy is in grave danger.

We have repeatedly made the case that Republicans all over the country are passing laws at the state level which will obstruct people’s right to vote, will allow the intimidation of voters, will gerrymander districts in order that politicians may choose their voters rather than being chosen by them, and will give Republicans the ability to reject election results they don’t like. The passage of these new laws is being accompanied by a purge of responsible election officials nationwide and by the deliberate escalation of violence meant to intimidate officials, from school boards to state houses. This is in addition to a relentless propaganda assault: the “Big Lie” that maintains that Donald Trump was cheated out of the 2020 election. The sum of these efforts puts the survival of our nation as a democracy in extreme peril.

We are grateful that you were a co-sponsor of the For the People Act, the predecessor to the Freedom to Vote Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. We were likewise grateful for your statements in support of both bills, including your statement on March 19, which read in part:

I don’t want to turn away from Senate traditions, but I also don’t believe one party should be able to prevent votes on important bills by abusing the filibuster.

The Republican party has prevented votes on the For the People Act, on the Freedom to Vote Act, and on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic leadership has missed deadline after deadline. In August, the census was finalized. Shortly afterwards, Republicans began gerrymandering Congressional districts. In state after state, they have ensured that Democrats will be mathematically prohibited from winning elections, even when their total number of votes cast statewide far exceeds that of their opponents. We are headed toward permanent minority rule over much of the country and therefore over Congress and the presidency – a minority rule which will make a mockery of the idea that citizens have the right to determine how they are governed.. And yet, despite your professed unwillingness to let Republicans prevent votes on important bills, you have refrained from naming the solution: the filibuster must not be allowed to stand in the way.

We recognize that passage of these democracy-saving bills will take the votes of all fifty Democratic senators. We realize that you cannot deliver those votes, nor do you control the process for moving the bills forward. But you have a voice. You are the most senior Democrat in the Senate, with a long and admirable record of achievement, whose voice carries weight with the public and with conservative Democratic senators. We implore you to not let our nation’s democracy die without even a fight.

The stakes could not be higher. President Biden was right when he described this as our greatest challenge since the Civil War – our survival as a nation depends on it. And we are out of time. If the New Year arrives without voting rights protected, all will be lost. As historian Heather Cox Richardson recently wrote:

If we do not pass a voting rights law that stops voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, dark money, and election subversion, our democracy will die. Not in centuries: now. The 2022 election will just pronounce the corpse.

Senator Feinstein, we need you to step up, now. We need you to call for the swift passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And we need you to clearly and unequivocally call for abolishing or providing a voting rights exception to the Senate filibuster so that this may be accomplished. We need you to step up and fight for our democracy and for the United States of America. If you can’t or won’t, please step aside so that someone more willing can take your place.


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