Can We Just Fast-Forward to the Part Where the Democrats Kill the Filibuster?

It’s the only way a Congress — and, for that matter, a president — will be able to get anything done

Mitch McConnell speaking into a mic.
Mitch McConnell speaking into a mic.

There may be a way to make meaningful progress in this declining empire, but one thing stands in our way: the filibuster. Finally, Democrats are talking about doing away with it in order to advance legislation — and Mitch McConnell, known to legislate (and occasionally pose in pictures) like a Jim Crow throwback, is caught up in his feelings over the prospect.

“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues,” McConnell declared on the Senate floor earlier this month.“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin to imagine — what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like.” In the words of McConnell, evil personified, the outcome would make the partisan gridlock of recent years look like “child’s play.”

Just last week, McConnell remarked that the filibuster, an arcane Senate rule made up to benefit segregationists, “has no racial history at all. None. There’s no dispute among historians about that.” Historians disagree. So did McConnell himself, just a few short years ago. Yet now he seems to think any of his detractors give a shit about what he thinks at this point.

Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer does not. Schumer isn’t really trying to get primaried by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2022, so he’s also not trying to waste time trying to get legislation passed. When asked about McConnell’s “scorched earth” tirade, Schumer told The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, “I’m not even going to give this blustery threat credence. We’re going to go forward. Period.”

Under the current system, with the Senate evenly divided, 50–50, the rest of Biden’s priorities will be dead on arrival. That includes legislation on voting rights, gun control, wages, and climate change. Although the Democratic-led House can (and continues to) pass major legislation, it stalls in the Senate over the nonsensical rule that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster to advance most legislation.

When it comes to McConnell, a man perfectly fine with using the powers of the Senate to starve Americans, his ranting about the sanctimony of a political tool used only to obstruct the majority rule of an elected body of representatives — you know, the bedrock of a democratic republic — is not worth entertaining.

As for the Democrats still on the fence about what to do with the filibuster, I’ve got an idea: Hurry up and arrive at the obvious conclusion that it must end.

That includes President Biden, who increasingly appears to want to be like FDR and LBJ rather than any of the presidents of the last four decades. In order to do so, he would actually have to get Congress to pass bills. Reconciliation will only do but so much.

To Biden’s credit, part of what spurred McConnell’s whining was that the president had publicly acknowledged that he is now in favor of making changes to the filibuster.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden first explained in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”

This sounds on par with what Sen. Joe Manchin said in an interview on Fox News Sunday around that same time: “The filibuster should be painful… and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years. Maybe it has to be more painful.”

These White men look at the issue of the filibuster and think recreating ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ is the answer. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests that this would only make Republican obstruction somehow even more of a spectacle.

Manchin, who loves the increased attention he gets as the Democrats’ spoiler in the Senate’s current deadlocked incarnation, repeated this sentiment on Meet the Press that weekend. “If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk,” Manchin said. “I’m willing to look at any way we can, but I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.”

These White men look at the issue of the filibuster and think recreating Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the answer. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests that this would only make Republican obstruction somehow even more of a spectacle. Speaking to Sean Hannity following Biden’s comments, Lindsey Graham told the Fox News host, “Here’s what Biden needs to understand: If you go to the talking filibuster, we will take the floor to stop HR 1.”

“I would talk till I fell over,” he continued.

I’m not a fan of wishing for old people to fall, but may he get his wish and never get his racist ass up.

I’m sure Graham and others would sincerely love the opportunity to mouth off about why Black people shouldn’t have it so easy to vote, though. Think of the fundraising. Consider the future primetime Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax bookings the racist antics would yield.

Fortunately, there are Democrats who already understand that a “talking filibuster” doesn’t deal with the underlying issue of the Republican Party, whose power is denying non-White people the right to vote, managing to wield enough power to stall Congress from functioning even as the minority party. And they can’t be convinced to ignore the problem in the interest of maintaining “civility.” This includes House leadership like Rep. Jim Clyburn, who, like me, is sick of hearing about how Manchin feels about the filibuster when the right to vote for Black folks is at stake.

“I saw [West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin] on TV the other day saying, ‘I’m not going to be for reconciliation because I’m considerate of my Republicans.’ Oh yeah? What about your Democrats?” Clyburn said in an interview with Politico last week. “I’m saying to him: The filibuster is like the constitution, it changes, it’s a living document. Times change, situations change. Slavery was constitutional.”

The pressure is growing on Manchin and the other filibuster-loving Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (she, like Manchin, is full of it), to get with the winning team from all sides of the donkey party.

Well over a year ago, former President Obama called for the end of the filibuster during his eulogy for the civil rights icon John Lewis last summer, branding it “another Jim Crow relic.” Since then, more Democratic senators have joined the chorus. Recently, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for its end, telling MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “60% is not a real democracy.”

Last Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a discussion organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, “I’ve come to see the filibuster as an archaic remnant of a past time. We have to show people that government can work.”

Yes, we do — and we have to do it before we no longer have the government we’re presently struggling to keep afloat.

Even Biden is publicly shifting toward what feels like the actual end of the filibuster.

During his first White House press conference (where Biden performed a lot better than the reporters who couldn’t be bothered to ask about the ongoing pandemic), he declared: “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a result of the filibuster, we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

On a call with Republican state lawmakers on voting rights, Sen. Ted Cruz claimed Democrats were trying to expand voting rights to “illegal aliens” and “child molesters.” (What a delightfully racist and QAnon way to describe Black voters.) As for whether there was any room for compromise on voting rights, Cruz said no.

Much as I want to understand that people need time to grow and evolve, when it comes to the filibuster, the time is up. I don’t want to hear another politician vomit niceties about why a rule that boosted racists then should be preserved to boost racists now — as Manchin did in a New York Times profile published over the weekend.

For all of these majorly White reporters and news anchors speaking to media-whoring Manchin, ask him if civility should come at the expense of Black people’s civil rights. That’s what this issue is ultimately about. And I’m tired of White people in the media not explicitly stating such, providing cover to these cowards talking in circles.

You either care about Black people voting or you don’t. By passing new Jim Crow-inspired legislation in states like Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi, Republicans have told us where they stand on the issue. Democrats need to do the same — and they can start with the obvious by putting the filibuster out of its misery already.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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