Sen. Tina Smith, the first-term Democrat from Minnesota, became the most recent Senate convert to ending the filibuster. “I believe that the filibuster should be abolished in all cases, not just for any particular piece of legislation,” Smith told the Star Tribune. “We have already abolished the filibuster for judicial nominations and the Supreme Court, and to me this is a very important step that we need to take in order to make sure that the Senate can function and can do the work that we need to do.”
That work includes passing the key elections and democratic reforms passed in the House this week: H.R. 1, For the People Act, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Smith joins her Minnesota colleague Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, who has spoken out more strongly than ever on abolishing this obstacle to democracy. She told the Star Tribune Thursday night that “something has to change or we’re going to be just in this quagmire of not being able to advance legislation.” She’s going to have hearings on the For the People Act democracy reform bill in her committee as soon as next week and will bring the bill to the floor.
“I’ve acknowledged there’s different ways you could” reform the filibuster, Klobuchar said. “You can get rid of it, which I support. You can change the numbers needed, which is something that we had talked about in early days, you know, have less numbers, not to get to 60. You can require what we call a talking filibuster, where you have to actually be there and object and speak the whole time.” Any of those reforms could help, and might be necessary to get the two most vocally recalcitrant Democrats—Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—on board. Each of them has made statements harkening to the need for the minority to have a voice and for the traditions of bipartisanship to prevail.
Sinema says the filibuster should be maintained to “fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans.” That’s simply not happening. What’s happening is one Republican refuses to give unanimous consent for the Senate to move forward on a bill, and then gets to go on his or her merry way, not having to actually provide justification for their opposition to the bill. There’s no debate. There’s no consideration. There’s no compromise. There’s Republican obstruction and its easy for them, painless. At the very least, they need to be forced to go back to the tradition, grand or not, of having to stand on the floor for hours on end justifying their position. They have got to be made to work for this.
Better still, abolish the damn thing once and for all. But what if Republicans take the Senate back? Sen. Smith has been thinking about that. She explained in a Facebook post how her thinking evolved and how when she came to the Senate, she “started out believing that we should keep the filibuster.” That changed in her actual experience there. “I kept thinking about what would happen, what would stop a conservative president and a conservative Congress from doing terrible damage, for example, to women’s health care without the filibuster,” Smith said. “But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress.”
Even Sen. Jon Tester, the Democrat from Montana who thinks that a $15/hour minimum wage is too much, is considering a change to the filibuster. “We’ve got to figure out whether leadership on both sides wants to have obstruction, or if they want to come together and try to get some things done,” Tester told The Washington Post.
“It will be a Democratic Party Armageddon in 2022 if we sit here on our butts and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry, we’re not as determined to get our agenda passed as Republicans were,'” Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Oregon Democrat spearheading filibuster reform efforts, told the Post. He’s right. With the Supreme Court seemingly ready to gut the remains of the Voting Rights Act and 43 states considering some 253 voter restriction bills, it could be Armageddon for Democrats. If the elections reforms passed by the House don’t become law, Democratic voters will be blocked from the polls. If President Biden’s critical agenda to address the pandemic, economic inequality, climate change, immigration—everything!—is stymied, Democratic voters won’t want to go to the polls in 2022.
Biden sure as hell recognizes that. That’s why the former longtime member of the Senate is open to filibuster reform. “One thing that is nonnegotiable is him delivering for the American people,” Emmy Ruiz, the White House political director, told the Post. “The number one priority here is to get this agenda, this bold agenda, passed through Congress.” Another White House official said the “‘strategy is adjusting every single day,’ reiterating Biden’s position that the filibuster is not sacrosanct while the agenda is.”
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is not showing his cards. “The bottom line is we’re going to come together as a caucus and figure out a way to get the bold action that the American people demand,” Schumer has said. “We will put bills on the floor. We’re not going to be the legislative graveyard.” There’s only one way to achieve that: either make the filibuster so painful Republicans abandon it, or simply end it.
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