That remnant of racism that handcuffs The Senate from passing necessary legislation by a democratic vote is known as the filibuster. It was first exploited as a way for the minority slave states to block civil rights legislation prior to the declaration of Civil War by Confederate states.
Filibustering, originally, in U.S. history, the attempt to take over countries at peace with the United States via privately financed military expeditions, a practice that reached its peak during the 1850s. In U.S. legislative usage, the term refers to obstructive delaying tactics (see filibuster).
Spurred by land hunger and by the desire of proslavery Southerners to add future slave states to the Union, filibusterers were active during the decade prior to the American Civil War.
Here we are, 170 years later, and this archaic racist’s tool is still embedded in The Senate to accomplish many of the same goals, undermine democracy, the best interest of the people and oppress black people and other people of color.
Democrats in The House have already passed powerful legislation to protect voting rights for minorities, police reform, and increasing the minimum wage to $15 but Republicans easily toss out the filibuster to block all the above. Most Senate Democrats support killing the filibuster, they only need a simple majority to do so but two Democrats stand in their way, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema released a letter written to a constituent who urged her to support ending the filibuster and her disingenuous reply was to claim that better legislation comes from requiring at least some Republicans to come on board.
This is a lie and Sinema knows it. She and we witnessed how the GOP used the filibuster during President Obama’s term, not to negotiate the substance of bills but solely to block Obama and Democrats and try to damage them as “do-nothings” in upcoming elections.
Sinema knows full well that the filibuster is not used constructively but only destructively and for political harm. So what is the real reason that she and Manchin declare their faithfulness to the filibuster over their own constituents, especially people of color? Simple, their careers, their re-elections take priority over protecting democracy in this country and the rights of minorities. They are coming from more conservative states and while Arizona is trending purple to blue, West Virginia is very conservative. So while their prioritizing their self-interests is a betrayal, it is based on a legitimate fear that they could be hammered in their re-elections for falling too much on the side of Democrats (and democracy).
The reality is that if Manchin and Sinema continue to support the filibuster and stopping the Democrats’ agenda, the massive and widespread assaults in at least 33 states by Republicans on Americans’ right to vote could destroy our democracy and the chance for Democrats to win power again in the foreseeable future. Then where will Manchin and Sinema be? Powerless in the minority with the rest of the Democrats with little chance to climb out from there for a decade or maybe much longer.
And there’s little doubt that once Republicans have succeeded in corrupting our elections into electing them into power endlessly, they will happily kill the filibuster to ram through more and more oppressive bills that cement their domination of power.
The irony is that if the filibuster was killed and new voting rights legislation was passed, it would help Manchin, Sinema, and all Democrats retain their seats through fair elections that truly reflected the will of the people (and the majority sure isn’t supporting the shallow and solely culture war/racist “platform” of the GOP).
So, how can these two secure-in-their-selfishness Democrats be moved from this terribly destructive position that will damage our democracy in the near and long term and deny civil rights to black and brown Americans?
Here are several suggestions on what could be done to move Manchin and Sinema to support Democratic and democratic principles:
- CREATE A DEMOCRATIC-GOP NEGOTIATING TEAM HEADED BY MANCHIN AND SINEMA
At first blush, this might seem counter-intuitive. Why give these impediments to democracy important negotiating positions? Here’s why, the only argument they have to hang their hats on for retaining the filibuster is that it “helps” make legislation more inclusive and bipartisan. Being that we know full well that Mitch McConnell’s intent is solely to hamstring Pres. Biden, the Dems and any legislation that might help and protect the 99% of Americans, put the heavy responsibility on these two to accomplish what they claim is achievable only through the filibuster. Put them on the spot, make them have to prove their claims. And when they fail spectacularly, when they are betrayed and backstabbed by the Republicans (as usual), let them carry the humiliation of their failure on their shoulders. Once that occurs and Democrats console them on trying their best, what argument do they have left to oppose killing the filibuster and passing all the badly-needed legislation that’s sent from The House Dems and piling up?
2. HAMMER INTO MANCHIN AND SINEMA THAT THEY ARE DOOMING THEMSELVES
Congress is a fun place to be when you’re in the majority and have power. It’s a depressing and difficult place to be when you’re relatively helpless to accomplish anything. Manchin and Sinema are now in the majority, they get to be Chairmen of committees they’re on or at least influential in drafting and approving any legislation their committees create. Dem leaders should have a come to Jesus talk with them, individually of course, that if the filibuster isn’t killed and voting rights legislation can’t be passed, they are doomed to be in an impotent minority of their own making for very possibly, the rest of their careers. Also, with Republicans busy blowing up democracy in their states, the likelihood of them getting re-elected after this corruption of elections goes way down. If they’re supporting the filibuster because they think it would hurt their re-elections by appearing to be too close with the rest of the Dems, if re-election is their highest priority, Dem leaders should drive home that while they may or may not affect their prospects by killing the filibuster, they surely will be harmed politically if Dem voters are gerrymandered and suppressed from being able to vote for them.
3. OFFER REFORMS OF THE FILIBUSTER THAT WOULD STILL ALLOW DEMS TO PASS BILLS
Again, thinking outside of the box can be valuable. Maybe Dems can give these two obstructors a win on not killing the filibuster while reforming it so that it can no longer be used to derail an entire term of Congress. Dems could propose to Manchin and Sinema, returning the filibuster to requiring the one filibustering to stand and speak throughout it. This would accomplish their alleged goal of extending debate yet not allow a filibuster to terminate a bill. Dems would just have to outlast the filibustering Repub. Dems could alternatively propose setting time limits on filibusters, reducing the threshold for votes needed to end a filibuster based on how long it runs, or exempting bills regarding civil rights from filibusters.
One way or another, Democrats and President Biden can’t allow Manchin’s and Sinema’s primary allegiance to their own re-elections, shut down Congress and the Democrats ability to address the many neglected and urgent problems in the country. After the COVID-19 relief bill passes, there is one more reconciliation, to allow a simple majority vote in The Senate, that can be used this year and Pres. Biden apparently intends to use that to pass an infrastructure bill (which is a good use of that).
Reconciliation can only be applied to financial and budgetary issues. So such pressing matters as protecting voting and civil rights, immigration issues, minimum wage hike to $15, giving DC and Puerto Rico statehood, Climate Change, police reform, adding protections in government to prevent any future would-be autocrats from overthrowing our democracy, court reform, and more could only be addressed by killing or substantially reforming the filibuster.
Many brave Democrats lost their seats in 2010 for voting for the ACA/Obamacare but in doing so, they saved and helped millions of Americans, past, present, and future. What they did was noble and profound and they changed history for the better. Clearly, Manchin and Sinema are not cut from the same cloth, they seem averse to self-sacrifice for the greater good but through one of the three options above or a combination of them, perhaps they can be leveraged to do the right thing and become reluctant heroes in the end despite themselves.