After the White House declined to weigh in on the filibuster debate Friday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, didn’t mince words on where she stood.
“It’s long past time to end the Jim Crow Filibuster,” the Massachusetts “Squad” member wrote on Twitter.
With the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris offering a tie-breaking vote, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been fighting to get Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to rule out nuking the 60-vote hurdle to end debate on most legislation.
Barack Obama related the filibuster to Jim Crow in a memorial service for the iconic late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
“You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for,” Obama said referring to the Voting Rights Act. “And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster – another Jim Crow relic – in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
But the filibuster is not tied to the Jim Crow era. In 1805, Vice President Aaron Burr, presiding over the senate, removed what he believed to be redundant language from the Senate rule book and cut the “previous question motion” which would have allowed a majority of lawmakers to end debate and force a vote on a bill. Senators over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries tried to reinstate the previous question motion, but their opponents would kill it by filibuster.
It took until 1917 for the Senate to enact a “cloture” rule, taking away the power from a single senator or group of senators from thwarting debate on their own. From then on, a new rule allowed two-thirds of senators to agree to cut off debate and bring a bill to the floor. That fraction was changed to three-fifths in 1975.
Some historians say that the filibuster has been used to obstruct civil rights legislation in the past, but more recently the more daring members of both parties have called to eliminate it.
President Trump repeatedly browbeat McConnell over the current filibuster rule for legislation, when Republicans only held a 51-49 advantage in the Senate.
Nixing the filibuster can be done by a mere 50-plus-one majority if Senate Democrats decide to do so. That is what Democrats did, using a “nuclear option” for lower-court nominations during former President Obama’s time in office, and what Republicans did for Supreme Court nominations during President Trump’s term.
As McConnell and Schumer spar over power-sharing in their split Senate, the plan remains at an impasse over the filibuster issue.
“I’ve been heartened to hear my colleague say he wants the same rules from the 2000s to apply today. Because certainly 20 years ago there was no talk of tearing down long-standing minority rights on legislation,” McConnell said in floor remarks Thursday. “The legislative filibuster is a crucial part of the Senate. Leading Democrats like President Biden himself have long defended it.”
McConnell then accused Democrats of “liberally” using the filibuster to block GOP legislation during the past six years that Republicans controlled the Senate. Democrats did this on notable occasions in 2020 when Republicans brought up police reform legislation and coronavirus relief bills that Democrats did not think were ambitious enough.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson contributed to this report.