Senate Democrats do not have enough votes to end the legislative filibuster. But the issue won’t go away, and progressive activists clamoring for President Joe Biden to enact a more progressive agenda are searching for midterm election candidates who will campaign on ending the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to pass major pieces of legislation. Some have even begun to argue that the filibuster is racist.
In the face of the left’s agitation to enact the so-called “nuclear option,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) rose to speak on the Senate floor Tuesday, defending the filibuster, pointing out the Democrats’ hypocrisy on the issue, and warning against the evils of partisan majority rule.
“This is a debate about nothing less than the nature and durability of American self-government,” Sasse argued.
Sasse noted that Democrats, who hold a majority in the 50-50 Senate by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ constitutional power to break ties, have begun arguing for filibuster “reform” since President Biden assumed office. In recent weeks, it has become popular for some senators, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to make the case that the filibuster “has deep roots in racism,” being used as a tool by white supremacist senators to block civil rights legislation.
Warren and other Democrats, of course, did not make these arguments when President Donald Trump was in office and they were in the minority, and Sasse clobbered them with their hypocrisy.
“[Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)] recently said that the filibuster is quote ‘stupid’ and ‘paralyzing.’ He also said ‘it’s time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster,'” Sasse recited. “But just four years ago when Donald Trump was elected and House Republicans were itching to have the Senate eliminate the filibuster because Republicans controlled the House, the Senate and the White House, Senator Schatz and a bunch of his colleagues actually penned a public letter that defended the filibuster and all of its quote, ‘existing rules, practices and traditions,’ close quote, precisely because it advanced the deliberative purposes of the Senate.”
“I don’t remember Senator Schatz then calling it the Jim-Crow filibuster when he wrote that letter, or when he was blocking Tim Scott’s police reform legislation last year by pointing to the Senate super-majority requirement rules,” he continued. “I don’t remember Senator Schatz calling it stupid when he filibustered COVID relief in September and again in October under the Senate’s current rules.”
I could give a hours and hours-long speech going through all the flip-floppers in this chamber who had one position 48 months ago and now have a completely different position. I don’t need to name all of them, we should just say, “what changed?” We know what changed. The only thing that changed in the last two years is who’s in power. When Democrats were in the minority, you were fierce defenders of this “indefensible Senate prerogative.”
That was the language that was used. The filibuster was “standing between America and fascism,” we heard. But now, when you’ve got the slimmest majority, actually it’s just 50-50 and you need the VPs’ motorcade to break a tie, now the filibuster is standing between you and some of your legislative goals, and therefore it needs to be tossed out. But when you were using the filibuster to halt Senator Scott’s police reform bill, the filibuster was an essential American institution that forces compromise. But now that it can be occasionally used to resist a 51-50, straight majoritarian exercise of power, it’s supposedly exclusively a relic of slavery and a tool of Jim Crow. It’s nonsense and the people saying it know that it’s nonsense. They use the same rule last year and you weren’t racist when you used it last year. This is B.S. that has been focused grouped and particular bills are being used as the excuse to grab power that won’t just be for this bill, it will be forever. It will be the end of the Senate. Was the filibuster really a tool of Jim Crow when it was used against Tim Scott last year? I don’t think so. And I don’t think any of you think so.
If somebody wants to come to the floor and repent of their racism of having used the filibuster last year, please do. But it isn’t what it was happening so stop with the nonsense rhetoric that is just for an MSNBC soundbite tonight. It’s sad to watch so many of my colleagues who know better be bullied into this position of short sightedness. And they do know better because many of you say it in private. And you’re being bullied there by the fringes of your party. But part of the responsibility of being a U.S. Senator is to stand up to the extreme fringes of your party. Part of the responsibility of being a U.S. Senator is to say, “I know that people are angry, I know that people are yelling. I know that there are hot heads. But one of the jobs of the Senator and the job of hits body it tries to find a way to let cooler heads prevail.”