McConnell vows to be "firewall" against progress in Senate as Democrats mull eliminating filibuster

While lawmakers from both parties have used the tactic in the past, Democrats look to block GOP opposition in 2021

Published September 19, 2020 7:31AM (EDT)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Getty/Tom Brenner)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Getty/Tom Brenner)

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Hoping to allow for the passage of progressive legislation, advocacy groups renewed calls to end the filibuster this week as Republican lawmakers joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in warning against the idea.

"This threat to permanently disfigure, to disfigure the Senate, has been the latest growing drumbeat in the modern Democratic Party's war against our governing institutions," McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Monday.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have ramped up calls to abolish the filibuster—a tactic used by both parties to thwart minority party opposition to legislation in the U.S. Senate—going so far as to set up a "war room" to, according to reporting by NBC News, "wage an all-out war on the Senate filibuster in bullish anticipation of sweeping the 2020 election and passing an ambitious progressive agenda."

Following McConnell's comments, Stand Up America, a grassroots advocacy group in favor of eliminating the filibuster, pointed to the urgent need for aggressive policies to combat the climate crisis as an argument for more Democrats to endorse getting rid of the process:

Mitch McConnell has shamelessly declared that GOP senators will use the filibuster as a "firewall" against any effort to pass a progressive agenda, including legislation to address the increasing frequency of man-made climate disasters like the fires raging across the country. That is disgraceful.

More areas than just the West will face wildfires, hurricanes, and other crises unless Congress is able to pass comprehensive legislation to address climate change. If Republicans are allowed to filibuster any meaningful progress, that won't be possible.

The science is real, and the threat is increasingly deadly. When Democrats flip the Senate, they cannot waste time on meaningless negotiations. If there is any hope of ending Republicans' senseless blockade on climate action legislation, it starts with abolishing the filibuster.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have used the filibuster to counter majority-party legislative proposals, but in recent decades Democrats have moved toward supporting its elimination. 

"There's nothing in the Constitution about a filibuster," former presidential candidate Andrew Yang told Ezra Klein in an interview published at Vox last week. "It is just some weird, arcane, esoteric Senate rule that took on a life of its own. And so if you're willing to put that rule above getting stuff done, then what are you doing?"

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also former White House hopefuls, support eliminating the filibuster.

In August, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he is open to the idea, but stopped short of fully supporting it. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on Republicans to do away with the filibuster when Democrats have used it to block GOP-led legislation during his tenure, calling it "stupid" and "ridiculous." But, like Democratic lawmakers who now wish to abolish the proceeding and had previously admired the use of the filibuster to block opposing party legislation, Trump has also flip-flopped on his position. 

Still, progressive Democrats and advocates say the filibuster is outdated and needs to be retired.

"Rhetoric alone simply won't get it all done," Christina Harvey, managing director for Stand Up America, said in a statement earlier this month. "It's time for action—and it's time for Biden and Schumer to pledge their support for abolishing the filibuster."

By Lisa Newcomb

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