‘Abolish the filibuster’: Democrats demand action after GOP blockades on voting rights threaten agenda

·4 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After Senate Republicans used the chamber’s filibuster rules to block two critical Democratic measures within the last month, a growing chorus of frustrated Democratic lawmakers have warned that without any significant actions, their agenda is in jeopardy from GOP obstruction.

Senate Republicans have relied on the chamber’s filibuster rules to block debate on two measures – the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot and a sweeping voting rights bill – prompting progressive lawmakers and some Democratic senators to demand their colleagues abolish the rule, or at least allow a debate or discussion about its next steps.

Democrats have pointed to Republicans’ refusal to even hold a debate on the two measures, despite Democrats holding a slim majority in Congress and control of the White House, as an urgent example why lawmakers should get rid of the rule to bypass GOP blockades.

Progressives have argued that Democrats, divided on how to move forward, are effectively ceding control of their marginally Democratically controlled Congress and the fate of Joe Biden’s agenda to the “bipartisan” ambitions of centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, or to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans who have vowed to reject Mr Biden’s proposals and crush Democrats in upcoming midterm elections.

Otherwise, their legislation is doomed without support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome a 60-vote threshold in the evenly divided Senate. And without unanimous support from all 50 Democratic-voting senators, with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, those filibuster rules will remain in place.

Following Tuesday’s vote on the For The People Act, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said “we cannot throw our democracy over a cliff in order to protect a Senate rule that isn’t even part of the Constitution”.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey said “we cannot let the filibuster stand as a roadblock to the fundamental and constitutional right to vote”.

“It’s time to abolish the filibuster so that we can debate and pass voting rights and electoral reform legislation to ensure our democracy represents all Americans,” he said in a statement.

Dick Durbin has called the GOP blockade a “killibuster”, and Michael Bennett has echoed other Senate Democrats in his pledge to “do whatever I can to find a path forward” on voting rights.

House Democrats, who passed the For The People Act in that chamber in March, have urged the Senate to act, as progress on Democratic-legislation is undermined by filibuster rules in the upper chamber.

“The people did not give Democrats the House, Senate and White House to compromise with insurrectionists. Abolish the filibuster so we can do the people’s work,” Democratic House Rep Ayanna Pressley said on Tuesday.

House Rep Mondaire Jones said the Senate vote on the For The People Act “makes clear that the only way to avoid failure and protect the fundamental rights of all Americans is to abolish the filibuster”.

Democratic Rep Jamaal Bowman suggested that House Democrats could stall progress on an infrastructure package without Democratic senators rallying behind filibuster reform and passage of a voting rights bill.

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal pushed back on the idea that Democrats would withhold votes, “but clearly you see the patience running out of many people,” she told CNN.

“Not just progressives, but people across the country who want to see movement and haven’t been seeing movement,” she said.

Progressives have also demanded that the White House do more to protect voting rights, as nearly 400 GOP-sponsored bills filed in nearly every state threaten to roll back mail-in voting and early voting and hand electoral oversight to state legislatures dominated by Republican lawmakers.

White House Press Secretary said progressives’ criticism is “a fight against the wrong opponent”.

The administration has worked with state lawmakers to promote voting rights, and the US Department of Justice will scrutinise new GOP laws and double the staff in its civil rights division.

“I would say that’s hardly being silent. That’s hardly sitting on the back bench,” Ms Psaki said.

In a statement after the vote, the president said he will “have more to say” on his administration’s efforts next week.

“I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again – for the people, for our very democracy,” he said.

The vice president said the administration will “fortify and expand the nationwide coalition on voting rights, and promote voter engagement and registration nationwide” and “lift up leaders in the states who are working to stop anti-voter legislation, and work with leaders in Congress to advance federal legislation that will strengthen voting rights.”

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