In Will Democrats Nix (or Weaken) the Filibuster?” New York Times “On Politics” newsletter editor Giovanni Russonello went beyond the usual liberal media whining over the filibuster to hint that Republicans are abusing the process in the name of -- you guessed it -- racism.
Major investments in infrastructure and green jobs. Expansions to voting rights and reforms to the democratic process. Strong new protections for labor unions. Universal background checks on gun sales.
All of these are top priorities for Democrats in Congress, and this session the House has already passed bills on most of them. But none of those bills have much chance of becoming law, as long as Republicans control 50 seats in the Senate.
Unless Democrats roll back the filibuster.
An old procedural move, the filibuster was introduced to protect the interests of slaveholding states in the years just before the Civil War and for the next 100 years it was largely favored by Southern segregationists. In its current form, it allows a minority party to put the kibosh on bills that arrive without the support of 60 senators, and in the past dozen years, it has gone from being a rarely used tool to a core element of Senator Mitch McConnell’s strategy as the Republican minority leader.
But the history of the filibuster is complicated -- and the image that many of us have in our heads, of an impassioned objection made on the Senate floor by a principled minority, simply doesn’t line up with the present reality….
Russonello leaned hard on one-sided history to portray the filibuster, used by both parties over the decades, as a racist truncheon.
First introduced in the run-up to the Civil War by John Calhoun, a staunchly pro-slavery senator from South Carolina, the filibuster was heavily used during the Jim Crow era by segregationists who sought to prevent widely popular civil rights laws from being put in place. Nationwide polls from the 1930s through the 1950s showed that most Americans supported anti-lynching legislation, the abolition of poll taxes and other such laws -- but Dixiecrat senators from the segregated South used the filibuster to stop legislation.
He let an anti-filibuster author bash both Sen. Ted Cruz and the Republican Party at large as racist.
After the civil rights movement, pushback against the filibuster led to the reforms of 1975; in the years after that, it remained the primary domain of conservative Southern senators like James Allen and Jesse Helms, who were “considered outlaws, almost pariahs among their colleagues,” [Adam] Jentleson said, calling them “absolutely the Ted Cruzes of their day.”
“If Republican leaders at the time could’ve had their way, they would’ve made these guys stop and cast them out of the party,” he said. “But it turns out that they were kind of the progenitors of where their party was headed.”
In his book, Jentleson writes that it may not be a coincidence that the G.O.P. leaned in to using the filibuster after the rise of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. McConnell, who declared in 2010 that his main goal was to ensure Obama was “a one-term president,” started using the 60-vote threshold to stop almost all legislation from passing.
Russonello finds racism everywhere he looks, including the 2020 Republican National Convention, even roping media victim, former Kentucky high-schooler Nicholas Sandmann into the toxic mix: “You can expect racial resentment to remain a central theme on Night 2 of the convention, where the speakers will include Nicholas Sandmann, the teenager who got in a dispute with a Native American man at a protest last year….”
That’s not really what happened on the National Mall in January 2019, when teenagers in D.C. for the March for Life were confronted by racist Black Israelites.