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US Senate Filibuster

Updated April 25, 2021

 

The U.S. Senate filibuster has been an important check and balance on American government for over two centuries requiring agreement by senators who represent not a 50/50 split, but who represent the wide majority of Americans, and requiring the difficult work of bipartisanship and compromise.  In what he termed at the time was “one of the most important speeches” in his then 32-year Senate career, Joe Biden stated in 2005 that “the Senate ought not act rashly by changing its rules to satisfy a strong-willed majority acting in the heat of the moment.”(1) Biden noted that eliminating the filibuster “upsets the constitutional design” and would “eviscerate the Senate.” Many of his Democratic Senate colleagues opposed filibuster changes in regard to Supreme Court nominees in 2017.

 

Americans widely oppose proposals to eliminate or change the Senate filibuster, as found by a nationally representative survey conducted in April 2021 by the respected polling firm Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.(2)  James Freeman noted in the Wall Street Journal:

 

“Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker finds consistently strong opposition among independents to such plans for structural changes, and concludes that moderate and unaffiliated voters did not vote for Joe Biden in 2020 “to turn the government upside-down’ or ‘remake America.’ Rather, they were hoping he would bring calm and perhaps “less bickering” to Washington, he adds. Among independents, opposition is especially intense. A full 69% of independent voters oppose ending the filibuster while just 28% support such a change in Senate rules.”(3)

 

Joe Biden promised unity, bipartisanship and a return to normalcy while campaigning for president.  Yet shortly following his election, Biden began pushing plans to eliminate the Senate filibuster. In March 2021, the Axios article “Biden’s New Deal: Re-engineering America, quickly” struck a favorable tone to Biden’s proposed overhaul:

 

“President Biden recently held an undisclosed East Room session with historians that included discussion of how big is too big — and how fast is too fast — to jam through once-in-a-lifetime historic changes to America…

“The historians’ views were very much in sync with his own: It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.”

“People close to Biden tell us he’s...fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party...

“This temptation to go even bigger [than Obama], Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell insists, will create such a fissure between the parties that he compared it this week to ‘nuclear winter’...

“But we're told Biden won’t hesitate...his team sees little chance he's going to be able to rewire the government in his image if he plays by the rules of bringing in at least 10 Republicans.”(4)

“Jam through...historic changes,” “chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship,” dashing the Senate’s filibuster rule to pass...trophy legislation for his party,””won’t hesitate” to create a partisan “nuclear winter,” plans to “rewire the government in his image,” and refuses to “[play] by the rules” for partisan advantage. 

 

Axios also notes that Biden has only a “short window” to go big. Why? Because of an evenly-divided Senate and the likelihood (without drastically re-writing the rules) that future elections will diminish Biden’s control.

 

Such conduct raises alarm as a sweeping power-grab abusing power. Americans have heard from the New York Times and other media for four years that Biden’s predecessor was the “greatest threat to democracy” and about the inviolability of precedent. 

 

These same media have been largely silent or even laudatory when anti-democratic measures are pushed to serve a favored agenda.  There has been little outcry at abandonment of bipartisanship, quashing the political opposition representing almost half of Americans. Only the left-leaning Washington Post opined: "Democrats have vigorously used the filibuster. It's pathetic they now won't pledge to protect it.”(5)  Other media have largely supported the changes or have been silent.  Yet even suggestion of such changes by the other party would have evoked widespread outcries and charges of fascism and authoritarianism. Now, authoritarian conduct and drastic curtailing of minority rights is couched in virtuous-sounding language as if it were a matter of public good.

 

Biden falsely represented the filibuster as a relic of the Jim Crow era. In fact, the filibuster is a 215-year-old precedent, instituted in 1806 during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and found to provide an indispensable "check and balance" since then. Even the leftist Brookings Institute made no claims of racial motives in discussing the history filibuster. The “Jim Crow” claim is misleading: the filibuster was used by Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond in a racist speech to block civil rights legislation in 1957. The legislation passed with a majority of both parties, with overwhelming Republican support but substantial opposition from Democrats (Republicans 167 for, 19 against, Democrats 118 for, 107 against in the House of Representatives, Republicans 43 for, 0 against and Democrats 29 for, 18 against in Senate). Yet “fact-checkers” did not rush to accuse Biden of lying or add this to an already-extensive list of misleading public statements.

 

One also wonders: Who are the historians whose views are “very much in sync” with Biden’s, and who favor “chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship?” Why was the meeting “undisclosed” and its attendees unnamed by an administration which has refused  and its attendees unmentioned from a presidency that won’t release virtual visitor logs?(6) The public deserves to know who is influencing and directing national policy. 

 

These “historians” are misrepresented as impartial scholars providing historical insights. It is no “happy accident” that Biden’s and “the historians’ views were very much in sync.” This was a staged event with cherry-picked political loyalists brought to the White House to provide pretext to eliminate or cripple the Senate filibuster. 

 

Biden has no unequivocal mandate. In 2020, the “Blue Wave” never materialized. Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives, achieving only a slim 219-211 majority notwithstanding being favored by legalized “ballot harvesting” by paid political operatives in California. When this practice was introduced in 2018, it resulted in the loss of numerous Republican seats and was key to flipping control of Congress to Democrats in 2018.(7)  A divided 50-50 Senate, with many Republicans retaining seats notwithstanding earlier expectations to the contrary, and a closer-than-expected presidential election.

 

The tactics used to justify this power-grab are authoritarian and predictable. History is misstated. Facts and precedent are ignored; new narratives are contrived. Cherry-picked revisionist scholars provide cover at staged events while being represented as objective authorities. Opponents are marginalized with false claims. The filibuster is falsely declared to be a “Jim Crow relic” by Biden and Obama; therefore, anyone who supports it is implied to be racist.  A propaganda campaign is conducted to sell the initiative.

 

Biden’s plan to eliminate or weaken the filibuster was blocked by Joe Manchin, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia. Manchin stated that there is “no circumstance” in which he would vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.(8)  From independents across the United States who value bipartisanship, checks and balances, and government ethics, thank you, Senator Manchin, for your integrity.

 

References

1. Phillips, Morgan. “Biden in 2005 said nixing the filibuster 'upsets the constitutional design' and would 'eviscerate the Senate.'” Yahoo! News, March 25, 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/biden-2005-said-nixing-filibuster-000202632.html   

2. “April 2021 National Voter Poll.” Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. https://firstliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/National421FinalPollResults.pdf  

3. Freeman, James. "Mason-Dixon Poll: Americans Reject Court-Packing." Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/mason-dixon-poll-americans-reject-court-packing-11619200597  

4. Allen, Mike and Jim VandeHei. “Biden's New Deal: Re-engineering America, quickly.”  Axios, March 24, 2021. https://www.axios.com/biden-filibuster-agenda-history-05be3812-6ee0-414b-ae71-b6dfa37d8df4.htm 

5. Thiessen, Marc A. "Democrats have vigorously used the filibuster. It's pathetic they now won't pledge to protect it." Washington Post, January 26, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/01/26/democrats-have-vigorously-used-filibuster-its-pathetic-they-now-wont-pledge-protect-it/  

6. Kumar, Anita. “Biden won’t release White House virtual visitor logs.” Politico, March 1, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/01/biden-white-house-transparency-trump-obama-471868 

7. O'Reilly, Andrew. "Ballot harvesting bounty: How Dems apparently used election law change to rout California Republicans." Fox News, December 3, 2018. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/ballot-harvesting-bounty-how-dems-used-election-law-change-to-rout-california-republicans  

8. Itkowitz, Colby. “Manchin says there is ‘no circumstance’ where he would vote to get rid of or ‘weaken’ the filibuster in blow to Biden agenda.” Washington Post, April 7, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/manchin-filibuster-biden/2021/04/07/03635ab2-97fd-11eb-b28d-bfa7bb5cb2a5_story.html