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GOP senators make case for killing filibuster
Thursday, 15 July 2021 18:30

This column was posted on June 24.

Syndicated Columnist


Once again this week, the media got it wrong. 

After Republicans invoked the filibuster to block consideration of S.1, the “For The People Act,” most news outlets reported it as a major loss for Democrats and a huge setback for voting rights.

Now, I admit, they were not totally wrong. To protect every American’s right to vote, it would have been better had the bill passed. But that’s not the full story. What really happened was this: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a trap – and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked right into it.

Let’s be honest. Schumer’s real goal in scheduling a vote on S.1 was not passage of the bill. Everybody knew it would never get the 60 votes necessary for cloture. His real goal was two-fold. First, to prove that voter suppression is at the heart of the Republican Party agenda. Mission Accomplished! Not only did Senate Republicans oppose any attempt to protect the vote, they wouldn’t even let it come up for debate, amendment, or vote.

Second goal: to prove that the Republican Party is, basically, against everything and for nothing. Again, Mission Accomplished! In the Senate so far this year, there was not one Republican vote for the COVID stimulus. Only six Republican votes for creation of the January 6 Truth Commission. And now, not one Republican vote for voting rights.

It’s clearer than ever that no matter how many times Joe Biden or Senate Democrats try to reach across the aisle, this gang of Republicans has zero interest in working together to get stuff done. They’d rather filibuster than legislate. Republicans have made the case themselves, stronger than any Democrat could. The only way forward, the only way for the Senate to get anything done, is to kill the filibuster.

For the life of me, I can’t understand the eagerness, even on the part of many Democrats, to defend the filibuster. It’s not in the Constitution. It’s only a Senate rule, which can be changed, anytime, by a majority of senators present and voting. In 1975, perhaps most famously, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, known as the “Conscience of the Senate,” successfully led an effort to reduce the number of senators required to invoke the filibuster from 67 to 60.

The filibuster has an ugly past. First adopted as a Senate rule in 1806, it was rarely used until the ’50s when it became the weapon of choice for Southern Democratic senators to kill civil rights legislation. Strom Thurmond still holds the record for the longest individual filibuster, speaking against the 1957 Civil Rights Act for 24 hours and 18 minutes.

But that’s when a senator actually had to stand at the podium, talking nonstop, and other senators had to sit, or lie on cots rolled in for the occasion, and listen. Of course, that’s no longer the case. Today’s filibuster is a farce. Nobody has to speak, not even for five minutes. All opponents have to do is “declare” a filibuster and, unless supporters can round up 60 votes, the bill is dead.

Today it’s even worse than that. Now Republicans use the filibuster, almost exclusively, not to kill a bill, but to prevent its consideration. Supporters have to round up 60 votes just to bring legislation, even with some bipartisan support, to the floor for debate. Which is, of course, a self-fulfilling defeat. Because, with no debate there is no opportunity to amend or improve the bill to round up whatever additional votes might have been needed for passage.

In effect, McConnell and today’s Senate Republicans are saying: We don’t want to do our job. We don’t want to govern. We don’t want to legislate. We will simply use the filibuster to shut the Senate down, which they have succeeded in doing, and will continue to do so, as long as the filibuster survives.

Some Democrats want to keep the filibuster, because they think they’ll need it, next time they’re in the minority. But they’re simply perpetuating the tyranny of the minority. The filibuster is inherently undemocratic. It’s wrong, whether invoked by Republicans or Democrats.

The good news is that the more Republicans invoke the filibuster, the more public pressure will build to get rid of it altogether or reduce the operative vote from 60 to 55 and force senators to actually take the podium and talk as long as their bladder holds out. At least that would be a good start.

©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.


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