Get rid of the filibuster. Throw it in the trash. Bury it in an unmarked grave so nobody can find it. The filibuster, which was rarely used for two centuries in the United States, is outdated as the powdered wigs it was created with. Unless it’s a tool to impede the rights of Black people in American–as late Sen. Strom Thurmond did with his 24-hour read-a-thon to stop the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Back then, that was used as a tool to stop voting rights protections for Black Americans, and this country loves to retrace its steps. So, this time, we are back here again, with inaction to change Senate rules to protect the little voting rights we still have. Many have called on President Biden to be forceful in calling for changes while Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema steal all the headlines.
In a speech today, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris plan to call on the Senate to make a filibuster carve out to pass the Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights (Advancement) Act while visiting Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a pastor at the church, will join them.
Biden plans to tell his audience, “The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation.”
“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch,” he’ll say, according to prepared remarks. “I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”
But not everybody is sold. Some voting rights advocates plan not to attend the speech, including Georgia Gov. candidate Stacey Abrams. Groups such as the Asian American Advocacy Fund, GALEO Impact Fund Inc. and New Georgia Project Action Fund have urged the President and Vice President to forego the trip.
“We’re beyond speeches. At this point, what we need, what we are demanding, is federal legislation,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Votes Matter. And it can’t happen soon enough, she said
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, also didn’t have kind words to say about the effort.
“We don’t need even more photo ops. We need action, and that action is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights (Advancement) Act as well as the Freedom to Vote Act, and we need that immediately,” Albright told reporters on Monday.
Phi Nguyen, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, addressed the President and vice president, saying, “We beg you to stay in Washington tomorrow because we don’t need you here in Georgia.”
President Biden has gone around the world and back again regarding the filibuster. I present to you a small timeline.
- With his first formal press conference as President, Biden stated that he agreed with former President Barack Obama that the filibuster “was a relic of the Jim Crow era.” But he also said, “Let’s figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first.”
- In a CNN town hall in Cincinnati on July 2021, President Biden abolishing the filibuster — would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”
- In a CNN town hall on Oct. 21st, President Biden said, “We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster.” He said it “remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally — on whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.”
- On changes to the filibuster during an interview with ABC “World News Tonight,” President Biden “supports changing Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to proceed – but only if necessary.
All of that took the course of over a year. Meanwhile, while the football is being advanced five yards for Democrats even to say change Senate rules this one time, Republicans in 19 states are passing anti-voting legislation. Even in Georgia, where President Biden speaks today, laws to close polling places and limit drop boxes have already happened. It’s not hard to fill the frustration that voting groups and advocates feel when this speech could have been done a while ago to gain momentum.