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Politics & Policy

Hypocritical Democrats Are Abusing the ‘Filibuster Abuse’ Talking Point

Sen. Martin Heinrich, (D., N.M.) questions Congresswoman Deb Haaland, (D., N.M.), during her hearing to be Interior Secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2021. (Jim Watson/Reuters)

Senator Heinrich, of New Mexico, explained last night that he has no choice but to oppose the legislative filibuster because it is now so frequently being “abused”:

This talking point, which is growing in popularity within the Democratic caucus, is utterly fraudulent. Since 2014, in which year Republicans took control of the Senate, Heinrich has used the legislative filibuster nearly 350 times. In that period, the Republican Party has not used it once (because it had the majority); has explicitly declined to abolish it in order to break the Democratic blockade, despite serious pressure from President Trump to do so; and has gone so far as issue a bipartisan letter supporting the maintenance of all the “existing rules, practices, and traditions” that the filibuster represents. Just four years ago, Heinrich signed signed that letter. Since then, there has, by definition, been precisely no Republican “abuse.” Indeed, because Republicans held the majority, there can’t have been. Heinrich is simply making it up.

When figures such as Tammy Duckworth contend that, “recently, the threat of filibuster has been used far too often and as a result political obstructionism in the United States Senate is now worse than it has ever been,” they are trying to create a history that simply does not exist, and to apply it to a party that is not guilty of the charge. The filibuster has indeed been used “recently” to stop reform. But it has been used by Democrats to block Republicans. Duckworth also signed the letter in 2017. In the interim, the only thing Republicans have done with the filibuster is to defend it — and against their immediate self-interest. In essence, Duckworth and Heinrich are complaining about themselves.

Dress it up as they might, the position that Duckworth and Heinrich are taking is that the filibuster was necessary while the Democratic Party remained in the minority, but that its use now that they have a majority of one would represent a crisis. This is untenable. In fact, it’s farcical, and it only becomes more so when one highlights the scale of the volte face in which many of the letter’s signatories are now engaged. Among those who are perpetrating this fraud are:

  • Ed Markey (D., Mass.), who now suggests that the filibuster is “rooted in a racist past, and it’s used today as a way of blocking the progressive agenda.”
  • Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), who now claims that “the filibuster was never in the constitution, originated mostly by accident, and has historically been used to block civil rights. No legislatures on earth have a supermajority requirement because that’s stupid and paralyzing. It’s time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster.”
  • Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), who now claims, “I would get rid of the filibuster. I have favored filibuster reform for a long time.” (She hasn’t.)
  • Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), who now says, “We’ve got to eliminate the filibuster.”
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), a particularly impressive fraudster who argued in 2014 that “we need to change the filibuster rule in the Senate,” then, once Democrats had lost the majority, signed a letter affirming support for exactly that rule, and now opposes it again having been elevated to the majority.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), who argued in 2019 that “if you don’t have 60 votes yet, it just means you haven’t done enough advocacy and you need to work a lot harder,” but now favors abolition.
  • Bob Casey (D., Pa.), who now says, “I’m certainly open to [ending filibusters] in ways that I would not have said I was two years ago.” (Which . . . well, yeah, because “two years ago” Casey was in the minority.)
  • Cory Booker (D., N.J.), who now says that the filibuster has to be “reformed.”
  • Kamala Harris (was D., Calif., now vice president), who now wants to alter the measure.
  • Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), who now claims, seven weeks into the first Democratic Senate majority in six years, that “recently, the threat of filibuster has been used far too often and as a result political obstructionism in the United States Senate is now worse than it has ever been.”

Irrespective of their politics, citizens of the United States should find this repugnant. Our institutions cannot switch from being vital to abominable the day after an election is held. And, if they do, we won’t have those institutions for long.

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