As many of you know, the filibuster has been the top issue for me in the 2020 Democratic Primary. I support Elizabeth Warren because she has called for eliminating the archaic 60 vote rule that has constantly killed progress time and time again. Her, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and Steve Bullock are my top choices in the primary because they support eliminating this rule and to have a simple majority in the Senate to address issues like health care, climate change, and gun control. They also understand better than Bernie Sanders & Joe Biden that Moscow Mitch has happily taken on the role of the Senate’s Grim Reaper and whether if he’s Minority Leader in the Senate again, he’s going to be the same obstructionist piece of shit that he was under President Obama. The call for eliminating the filibuster has gained traction. Former Senate Majority and Minority Leader, Harry Reid (D. NV), has come out of retirement and raising his voice in favor of abolishing the filibuster because of current Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D. NY), and Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin (D. IL), are seriously considering this option

Now I understand the pros and cons of getting rid of or even reforming the filibuster, but the next Democratic President and Congress are on borrowed time. Yes, in the end, it will be up to Schumer and Durbin to make the call and whip the votes but having the Presidential candidates highlight this issue makes the call for reforming or eliminating it louder. It’s the first priority the Democratic President should make when entering the office in 2021 because they can’t waste all their political capital fighting Moscow Mitch. So I started to see how this issue was playing in the upcoming U.S. Senate races. One of the big ones I was looking at was the upcoming Democratic Senate Primary between current U.S. Senator, Ed Markey (D. MA) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D. MA). While I admire and respect Senator Markey and proudly wrote in favor of his campaign in the 2013 Special Election, I am warming up to Rep. Kennedy’s campaign because he’s with me on this:

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.

I also highlighted that Markey said this 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.

Again, I understand why he made that statement but if we are going to treat climate change like a real emergency and pass the Green New Deal, we cannot allow Moscow Mitch to have one iota of obstructionist power. Earlier this year, this started to sink into Markey’s brain:

During Thursday’s press conference unveiling the Green New Deal, Sen. Ed Markey was asked by the New Yorker’s Osita Nwanevu if, should the situation arise, the Democrats should eliminate the filibuster in order to get the bill through the Senate. Markey’s response was that he expects the bill to pass with 60 votes and Republican support.

Markey later backtracked a bit and said that other legislative options, including budget reconciliation, were on the table. But his initial hesitancy to suggest getting rid of the most archaic and anti-democratic tool in the most archaic and anti-democratic legislative body in America says a lot about how institutionally conservative the Senate makes those who serve in it.

The filibuster is a legislative maneuver used in the Senate to effectively shut down debate, by allowing a senator or group of them to speak for however long they want. As Brookings fellow Sarah Binder explained in a Senate hearing in 2010, it was effectively created by mistake in the early 19th century, but because of that mistake, 60 votes are needed to cut off debate rather than a simple majority.

In recent years, it’s been wielded much more often, meaning the business of the Senate can grind to a halt every time a remotely contentious piece of legislation comes up—or, knowing that, the majority party just won’t bring it up for a vote at all. It’s on its last legs as it is; in 2013, the Democratic-led Senate got rid of the filibuster for most judicial and executive branch nominations, and in 2017, the Republicans killed it for Supreme Court confirmation votes.

The filibuster is, and always has been, a key enemy to progress in America. Both the filibuster and the mere threat of the filibuster have been used to oppose civil rights, Obamacare, a public option, the DREAM Act, cap and trade, card check, a hike on the minimum wage, even the most moderate gun control measure, and so on. Jesse Helms filibustered making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. The Senate only passed an anti-lynching bill for the first time in December 2018; the reason it took so long is, you guessed it, the filibuster.

Moreover, the filibuster no longer exists for the kinds of situations in which it would have been most useful for Democrats to keep it—like the Supreme Court nomination of accused sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh, or any of President Donald Trump’s grifter cabinet appointees. As it stands, it is a gift to the right and little else. (There is a reason that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t give the most useful weapon conservatives have away even to enact President Donald Trump’s biggest campaign promise.)

While Markey was singing Bernie Sanders’ tune of using budget reconciliation rules changes to pass the Green New Deal, even though that route wouldn’t guarantee success. So I was delighted to hear Markey say this at a climate oriented debate between him and his primary challenger, Shannon Liss-Riordan (D. MA), on Sunday:

At the debate, Markey expressed support for changing the rules of the Senate filibuster — a tactic used to delay a vote on a bill by extending debate. The current procedure for breaking a filibuster requires 60 votes. Markey said he’d consider a change if Democrats do not seize control of the Senate and Republicans block votes.

“At that point, we will have to talk about changing the filibuster,” he said. His answer represented a changed stance on the issue, which his two challengers had already expressed support for. Liss-Riodan unconditionally favors eliminating the procedure.

If Markey can change his tune on this, so can other Senate Democrats. It won't be easy but it’s a good fight worth having and we have Warren to thank for bringing the issue of the filibuster into the mainstream.

Let’s continue to encourage Senate Democrats and Senate Democratic candidates that we support abolishing or drastically changing the filibuster rules. Click here to donate and get involved with Markey’s re-election campaign.

  • November 11, 2019