Senate

Elizabeth Warren: Filibuster ‘has deep roots in racism’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday called the filibuster racist as progressive calls to eliminate the Senate procedural move grow.

“The filibuster … was designed to give the South the ability to veto any effective civil rights legislation or anti-lynching legislation,” Warren told Axios.

“The filibuster has deep roots in racism, and it should not be permitted to serve that function, or to create a veto for the minority. In a democracy, it’s majority rules,” she added.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) echoed these sentiments, telling Axios, “It’s important that we not continue to allow the filibuster to be a tool used to suppress the right to vote, that black people have fought and died for.”

The idea of the filibuster as racist dates back to the pre-Civil War era, when the legislative tactic was used to block the admission of states based on their slavery status, political scientist and University of Miami congressional specialist Gregory Koger told Politifact.

Later on, during the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras, senators used filibusters against civil rights bills, the deployment of federal troops in southern states, and the repayment of income taxes from the Civil War, Kroger added.

These comments come amid tense debate regarding the future of the filibuster. Several Democrats are keen on eliminating the 60-vote requirement to advance legislation, while Republicans are staunchly opposed.

Senate Democrats, however, do not yet have enough votes to reform the rules in the 50-50 chamber.

Liberals fear that without filibuster reform, several of the Biden administration’s top priorities — including legislation on voting rights, climate change and gun reform — are DOA in the upper chamber.

“The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy. The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Monday.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for discussing changes to the filibuster when they used it to block GOP proposals during the previous Congress.

“Senator Warren filibuster[ed] multiple bills last year,” a top aide for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter in response to Warren’s comments.

On Tuesday, McConnell did not mince words when warning against removing the filibuster, saying, “Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like.”

President Biden leaned into the filibuster debate on Tuesday, endorsing a change to the Senate rules that would bring back the talking filibuster.

“You had to stand up and command the floor and you had to keep talking along,” Biden said during an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos. “Once you stopped talking, you lost that and someone could move in and say, I move to the question of.”

“You’ve got to work for the filibuster. It is almost getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he added.

Tags Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Filibuster filibuster reform George Stephanopoulos Hank Johnson Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nuclear option Parliamentary procedure

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