Amy Goodman

End the filibuster

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are barnstorming the country on their “Help Is Here” tour, promoting the new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. This, their first victory lap, may turn out to be their last. The Republican minority in the U.S. Senate seems firmly committed to deploying the filibuster to block all forthcoming Democratic legislation. The filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution; it could be altered or eliminated through a simple majority vote of the Senate. As Republicans nationally ramp up an unprecedented attack on democracy, with at least 253 laws in 43 states, at last count, aimed at restricting voting rights, primarily targeting voters of color, and with the certainty of extreme gerrymandering forthcoming as Republican-controlled state legislatures coordinate partisan redistricting, the need to eliminate the filibuster has never been more urgent.

The filibuster has long empowered white supremacists to protect and extend slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and all their modern manifestations, from voter suppression to mass incarceration. When Congress was founded, both the House and the Senate required only a simple majority to pass a bill. In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr, while facing murder charges for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, suggested that the Senate remove its “previous question” rule, as it was almost never used. That minor edit created a fatal loophole in Senate procedures, ultimately allowing the minority party to obstruct progress by endlessly extending debate through what was later dubbed the filibuster.

In 1841, South Carolina Sen. John Calhoun, perhaps the fiercest defender of slavery in U.S. history, figured out that he could rally his fellow slave state senators, a minority in the Senate, to grind proceedings to a standstill with long speeches and other procedural obstacles.

“For the first 200 years of its existence, the Senate was majority rule,” Adam Jentleson, author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy,” explained on the Democracy Now! news hour. “Even as the filibuster started to develop in CalhounÕs time, all that senators could do was delay a bill. They had to talk on the floor, and eventually they had to give up.”

That changed after World War I. Southern senators targeted anti-lynching laws, managing to block 200 attempts over the years to formally designate lynching as a federal crime. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul single-handedly blocked passage of the Emmet Till Antilynching Law in June of 2020, even though the bill passed the House by a vote of 400 to 4.

Southern Democratic “Dixiecrats,” led by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, also filibustered major civil rights legislation. Thurmond holds the record for filibustering, delaying passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act by speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was filibustered for close to 75 days before it finally passed.

The filibuster has been used more and more to block not just civil rights legislation but practically all progressive bills. As the filibuster is currently practiced, a Senator does not need to hold the floor to stop a bill but needs only to place a phone call to the Senate staff. Thus, a single senator has the power to secretly kill legislation, even a bill with overwhelming public support.

Congressional Democrats hope to pass a slew of bills: The For the People Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to protect voting rights; the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; bills to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and major infrastructure bills that will include elements of a Green New Deal to combat catastrophic climate change. Democratic Congressmembers Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell have just introduced a “Medicare for All” bill, which, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has growing support.

None of these has a chance if the Senate filibuster stays in place. Democrats will need all 50 of their Senators to change it and, currently, conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona have pledged to reject an outright ending of the filibuster. President Biden publicly supports a return to the “talking filibuster,” requiring senators intent on filibustering to actually hold the floor, speaking without interruption. Manchin says he is open to that and, presumably, Sinema could be convinced as well.

Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged a “scorched earth” response to any change in the filibuster. McConnell, like slaveryÕs arch-defender John Calhoun 180 years ago, wields raw power with a ruthlessness almost unparalleled in U.S. Senate history.

The filibuster has been a tool of white supremacists for far too long. A fleeting opportunity to end it has arrived. For the growing, diverse majority in this country, it has become an intolerable impediment to progress, and must end now.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the New York Times best-seller “Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.”
   © 2021 Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
   Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Past Columns
Ban Assault Weapons Now

March 31, 2021

Confederate Monuments

March 10, 2021

Alone Star State

February 24, 2021

Shut down DAPL

February 3, 2021

When the wall becomes a door

January 27, 2021

Trump’s insurrection

January 13, 2021

Pardons and Pentobarbital

December 9, 2020

Food for the hungry

December 2, 2020

Lost Causes

November 18, 2020

Infection Election

October 21, 2020

Amoral Universe

September 2, 2020

COVID Care

August 12, 2020

Tests, not troops

July 29, 2020

Defund the Police

June 17, 2020

Racism in America

June 2, 2020

Live and Let Die

May 13, 2020

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A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

An Artist's Universe

10:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

McKnight and DeLacy

10:00am

Mixed-media works by Bainbridge Island-based artist Aaron McKnight and sculptures by Marceil DeLacy can be viewed from 10am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at Smith &…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Scatter Sunshine

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Scatter Sunshine: La Conner in Bloom…

The Work of Jesus Guillén

11:00am

“The Work of Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage” can be seen from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through May 2 in La Conner at the Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 S.…

Rock, Paper, Paint

11:00am

“Rock, Paper, Paint” shows from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The exhibit features new “drop” oil paintings by Allen Moe, rock…

Sculpture Northwest Exhibit

11:00am

The works of 15 Sculpture Northwest artists can be viewed both indoors and out from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays (and by appointment) through April 23 on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art…

A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…

Art-iversary Exhibit

10:00am

From 10am-5:30pm Mondays through Saturdays through April 30, celebrate 20 years of ownership for Sheri Wright of Fourth Corner Frames, 311 W. Holly St. A wide variety of works are for sale as…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…