Senator, presidential candidate, and fast runner Elizabeth Warren wants to get rid of the filibuster, the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. She will outline her proposal in a speech on Friday before the National Action Network, staking out a position that is bolder than her fellow candidates in the Democratic primary field, who have been far less willing to entertain the idea of ending the filibuster.
Here’s what she plans on saying, according to her prepared remarks:
I’m not running for President just to talk about making real, structural change. I’m serious about getting it done. And part of getting it done means waking up to the reality of the United States Senate. So let me be as clear as I can. When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: we’re done with two sets of rules—one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.
That means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.
Warren is the only Democratic presidential candidate who has come out strongly in favor of ending the filibuster. Senator Kamala Harris, when asked in the past, has dodged the question. “I’m conflicted. I see the arguments on both sides,” she once said. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, similarly, has said that she needs to “weight all the pros and the cons.” Senator Bernie Sanders in February told a reporter, “I’m not crazy about getting rid of the filibuster.” Cory Booker is even more in favor of the filibuster, telling Politico, “We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster. It’s one of the distinguishing factors of this body. And I think it is good to have the power of the filibuster.”
The Democrats’ argument for keeping the filibuster has long been that it is a way for the minority party to check the worst excesses of the Republican Party. “If last year we did not have the filibuster, the Trump administration and the GOP majority could have rammed through an incredible range of laws that those same progressive groups would find incredibly destructive,” Senator Chris Coons said earlier in 2019 in response to some activists’ calls for Democrats to endorse its end. But as many have pointed out, there are good reasons for progressives to want to end the filibuster, namely: if we truly want to pass ambitious and needed legislation, then the filibuster has to go.
As New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz explained:
Right now, Democrats have 47 Senate seats, and a reasonable chance of regaining a narrow majority in 2020 or 2022. But the party’s chances of gaining 60 votes in the medium-term future are nil. Which means that, absent the legislative filibuster’s (de facto or de jure) destruction, the party’s prospects for passing Medicare for All, a Green New Deal—or voting-rights legislation strong enough to combat the GOP’s voter-suppression efforts at the state level—are bleak.
In her run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Warren has released an ambitious set of policy proposals—she’s called for abolishing the Electoral College and has released a comprehensive plan for widely accessible childcare, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In calling for the end of the filibuster, she’s not only appealing to progressive activists, she’s acknowledging that there’s no chance to pass Medicare for All or the Green New Deal or stronger voter protections without an end to the filibuster.
“For generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything,” Warren will say on Friday. “I’ve only served one term in the Senate — but I’ve seen what’s happening. We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.”