Advertisements

MA-Sen: Why The Filibuster Is The Big Issue In The Primary Between Markey (D) & Kennedy (D)

Here’s the latest news out of Massachusetts:

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the last member of the Democratic dynasty serving in Washington, plans to formally announce Saturday that he is launching a primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey, an audacious political move that could open fissures within the Democratic Party and reshape the Massachusetts political landscape.

Kennedy will make his announcement at a breakfast with supporters and local community members at East Boston Social Centers, according to two people close to him. From there, Kennedy will tour the state through Monday, highlighting issues he plans to center his campaign on, including health care access, mental health and addiction issues, climate change, and civil rights, the people said.

Kennedy informed Markey of his decision Wednesday, one of the people added.

Backed by his famous surname and relative youth, Kennedy, 38, will enter the race as the front-runner, according to recent polls. But Markey, 73, has insisted publicly and privately he will put up a tough fight to stay in Congress, where he began serving in 1976.

I would like to say that have a tremendous amount of respect for both Senator Markey and Rep. Kennedy. Markey has proven to be a Progressive Champion, especially when it comes to the Green New Deal and Medicare For All. This has earned him endorsements from his colleague, U.S. Senator & Presidential Candidate, Elizabeth Warren (D. MA), and from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D. NY). But as many of you know, abolishing the filibuster has been an important a big issue for me in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary. I am backing Warren over Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden because she supports abolishing the filibuster whereas Sanders and Biden aren’t a big fan of that idea. Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, and Steve Bullock have all come out in support of abolishing the filibuster as well. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar are not on board, Biden thinks Republicans will work with him and Sander is proposing a complex Budget Reconciliation Rules change instead of abolishing the filibuster simply because “Trump kind of likes that idea”. However, Budget Reconciliation Rules change would not guarantee that Medicare For All would be passed. So what does this issue have to do with this upcoming primary fight between Markey and Kennedy? Well, I am very happy to say that Kennedy supports abolishing the filibuster:

Rep. Joe Kennedy III may be in the House, but he has some thoughts about changing the way things work in the Senate.

As he continues to mull whether to challenge Sen. Ed Markey in next year’s Democratic primary, the Massachusetts congressman told WBZ in an interview Thursday that he supports a number of structural reforms to the democratic process, including abolishing the Electoral College, term limits on Supreme Court judges, and eliminating the Senate filibuster rule requiring a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation.

“The intellectual idea behind the filibuster was that it was supposed to be a moderating force so that you get a deliberative body that acts in a way the majority of the country supports,” Kennedy said. “The Senate can’t agree that today is Thursday or that it’s sunny outside or that the Patriots are the best team in NFL history. We can’t agree on anything.”

The use of the filibuster to block legislation and executive appointees has increased dramatically in the past few decades. Subsequently, party leaders have recently chipped away at the supermajority rule, with Democrats voting in 2013 to abolish the 60-vote rule for most presidential nominees, before Republicans eliminated it in 2017 for Supreme Court nominees as well.

Still, the threshold remains in place for most bills, which Kennedy says has resulted in legislative stagnation and a “bigger and bigger rift” between voters and government policy.

“That’s the fissure that allowed Donald Trump to win in the first place and that’s what we’ve got to change,” the Newton Democrat told WBZ.

Even as rumors were brewing about him making a bid for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Kennedy was advocating abolishing the filibuster even while in Congress. Here’s an e-mail I received from him on September 5th:

Whether it's fair wages or civil rights or freedom from gun violence or access to basic health care: our government is not meeting its people's basic needs.

In some cases—certainly where President Trump is involved—that government is actively exploiting and oppressing the families we are supposed to protect.

It's a crisis of our national character, and it threatens to tear our country apart.

But if we're going to restore our commitment to our values – compassion, justice, freedom, community – we have to recognize that our political system and democratic institutions are not fixing this dysfunction, they are protecting it. They are making the problems worse.

So we can't talk about the most pressing policy reforms we need—on immigration, the economy, health care, climate change –without talking about the political structures used to quite literally hold them hostage.

There are a lot of issues at play here, from voter suppression to gerrymandering to campaign finance, and ultimately, we've got to take them all on.

But there are three key structural reforms we need to tackle right off the bat:

  • End the filibuster. The filibuster was once a way to allow Senators to make an principled objection of conscience. During the Civil Rights era, segregationists refashioned it as tool to derail meaningful civil rights legislation—again and again and again. More recently, it's become a cynical Republican shortcut to subvert the will of the American people.
  • Eliminate the electoral college. The electoral college distorts the simple equation at the heart of democracy: one person, one vote. As a result, in some areas of the country, one person's vote can count as much as three times the average American's. The system (created to empower slave states) is inherently, grossly unjust.
  • Term limits for Supreme Court justices. The lifetime terms that were supposed to insulate the court from the political winds have turned confirmation hearings into the most heated, brutal partisan battles in government. We have to bring down the temperature of those hearings.

Think about it this way: the last two Republican presidents took office despite having failed to earn the support of a majority of Americans or win the popular vote. Between them, those two presidents have so far appointed four conservative supreme court justices, who will serve for life. Those justices are confirmed by a Senate that does not have to heed majority opinion.

And some wonder why so many Americans feel like their voices aren't heard.

It's time to fix broken structures and amplify those voices.

Joe

Again, I have tremendous amount of respect for Senator Markey and wrote heavily in favor of his campaign in the 2013 Special Election and in his Senate primary against Rep. Stephen Lynch (D. MA). I even praised him in diary calling for Brett Kavanaugh’s impeachment. But I am concerned that Markey is not willing to advocate making the systematic changes needed to pass legislation that will have a huge, positive impact on the country. Here’s a quote from Markey about the filibuster back in 2017:

If/when the Democrats regain control of the Senate, will they bring back the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees?

Sen. Ed Markey thinks so.

“When the Democrats return to the majority and capture the presidency — which we will, that day is going to arrive — we will restore the 60-vote margin,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Monday on MSNBC. “We will ensure that for the Supreme Court that there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in those people that are nominated rather than just someone who passes a litmus test.”

Markey's comments came hours after Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the Supreme Court's newest justice. It also came days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., deployed the “nuclear option,” essentially changing the Senate rules to advance Gorsuch's nomination with a simple majority. Before, a nomination could only move forward if a nominee had 60 votes. Without that number of votes, senators could filibuster the nomination.

I understand why Markey made that statement at the time but he’s still wrong on that issue. I am also very well aware that abolishing the filibuster will lie on Democrats taking back the Senate and (hopefully) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D. NY) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D. IL) riling up the votes to make that happen, but it’s a big issue for me in the Presidential Primary because while I believe all the candidates can beat Trump, it’s really who is prepared to handle Moscow Mitch’s obstruction and get a progressive agenda passed. The fact that Schumer and Durbin are considering getting rid of the filibuster has caused former U.S. Senate Majority and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D. NV) to build momentum to kill the filibuster. It has also caused McConnell to freak out about the idea of taking away his only weapon to allow him to be the Grim Reaper of the Progressive Agenda. He even went as far to write an op-ed in the New York Times defending his role in suppressing Democracy. While Jonathan Bernstein from Bloomberg Opinion has advocated against killing the filibuster, he rightfully called out McConnell’s bull shit:

Mr. McConnell says that Democrats lived to regret that change, but it’s a preposterous claim. Republicans broke all precedents and norms when they regained the majority in the 2014 elections by refusing to consider any Supreme Court nominee from Barack Obama and by largely shutting down confirmation of appellate court and many executive branch positions as well. They then removed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as soon as Democrats tried to use it, and then eliminated the “blue slip” procedure that Democrats had retained when Obama was president, which allowed senators an effective veto over judicial nominations in their own state.

It’s impossible to prove what would have happened had Democrats not acted in 2013, but there’s just no reason to believe that Republicans, who at least since 2009 have had zero respect for confirmation norms, would have acted any differently. Which means that confirmations of Mr. Obama’s nominations would have ended in 2013, rather than in 2015, and Republicans would have filled all of those additional vacancies after 2016.

If Mr. McConnell really respected the filibuster, he would have used it a lot less when his party was in the minority — and when it was in the majority, he would have worked to restore the rule rather than eliminating even more protections for Senate minorities.

The bottom line is that the filibuster can be justified if it’s used when the minority is particularly intense, and when it wins only if the majority is relatively indifferent. It seems safe to say that Mr. McConnell and the Republicans retained the legislative filibuster in 2017-18 only because they had a paltry legislative agenda. Democrats will eliminate it if it’s all that stands between them and passing their agenda, and Republicans use it across-the-board to block everything without any interest in cutting deals.

And even though Democrats may be the ones who deliver the final blow, historians will correctly put the blame — or the credit — squarely on Mitch McConnell and his Republicans.

Warren and Kennedy understand the risk and the need to get rid of the filibuster in order to get bold initiatives like Medicare For All and The Green New Deal or any plan similar to these goals passed in the Senate. The Democratic President and Senate cannot allow someone like McConnell to continue to suffocate Democracy and make a mockery of their first term in office. John Oliver explains this perfectly. Let’s also not forget that we will have another midterm election in 2022 where the Democrats could suffer some loses but also take out obstructionist Republicans like U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R. PA) who was holding up his own judicial nominee when President Obama was in office. We are living on borrowed time to get anything done and this upcoming Senate election could be the opportunity to get that message to Senate Democrats that we want people who want to make serious systematic changes to make the government work for the people. It’s certainly an issue Kennedy can make to differentiate himself from Markey and to make this election not just about Trump but about McConnell. It also gives us an opportunity to mount pressure on Senate Democrats like Markey that keeping the filibuster makes no sense and voters want real change. 

Advertisements