West Virginia’s occasionally Democratic Senator Joe Manchin gets a lot of grief in liberal circles because of his fondness for the filibuster. And yes, he’s a roadblock. But it says here that our very own liberal lion, Pat Leahy, isn’t materially different from Manchin.
Leahy is one of a number of Democratic senators who’ve been maddeningly opaque on the filibuster. It takes some doing to find any public statement by Leahy on the subject. The most recent one I could find was from way back in mid-November in the Washington Post:
“I agree with Thomas Jefferson [who] said, you know, it’s the saucer where things cool,” Leahy responded. “What I want to do though is see us come back to voting on things.”
This quote is taken from Vote Save America’s rundown of each senator’s known position on the filibuster. And it’s pretty damn close to an endorsement of the filibuster.
But hey, that was months ago, and maybe his tune has changed in the face of Republican obstructionism. So I wrote to David Carle, Leahy’s comms guy, and asked him for the Senator’s present position. This is what I got in return.
He continues to discuss this with other senators, and there’s a lot of that going on.
So maybe his position has changed, and maybe it hasn’t. If I had to guess, it hasn’t. Otherwise his office would have supplied something with a bit of substance.
Look, Leahy’s been in the Senate longer than he was alive before going to D.C. Like most senior senators, he’s protective of the institution and all its traditions. And he’s nostalgic for the days when senators on both sides of the aisle were drinking buddies who could go into a smoke-filled room and emerge with a cromulent compromise.
But those days have been over since at least 2010, when Mitch McConnell declared that his number-one priority was making sure Barack Obama was a one-term president. Since then, he’s killed hundreds of bills passed by Democratic Houses. He’s made it clear that Senate Republicans will vote as a bloc against anything President Biden proposes.
There’s a hell of a lot at stake beginning with H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights in the face of an across-the-board effort by Republicans to restrict voting and make it easier for them to steal elections. If it’s not enacted before the 2022 elections, the Democrats will have a huge uphill battle on their hands to hold onto razor-thin Congressional majorities.
Dozens of other House-passed bills are stuck in Senate purgatory, including:
- The Washington, D.C. Admission Act, to make the District of Columbia our 51st state
- The Equality Act, that would expand federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans
- The American Dream and Promise Act, which would incorporate the DACA program into federal law, protecting millions from deportation
- Two separate bills to expand background checks for gun purchases
- H.J. Res, 17, to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment
- The Inspector General Protection Act, proposed in response to the rampant abuses of IGs during the Trump administration
- H.R. 208, which would designate the US Postal Service office in Tupelo, Mississippi, as the “Colonel Carlyle ‘Smitty’ Harris Post Office”. (Wait, how did that get in here?)
- The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would amend existing federal law to make it easier to organize unions
- H.R. 1085, which would award congressional gold medals to the United States Capitol Police and those who protected the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Yup, this no-brainer is still pending.
- The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, to combat police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing
- The Access to Counsel Act, which would ensure that CBP and ICE detainees would have access to lawyers
- The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which would restore the 1994 VAWA to federal law. It’s been inactive since 2019 thanks to Republican obstructionism.
- The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would provide migrant workers a path to receiving a green card
That is not, I assure you, an exhaustive list. Those are only the highlights.
Well, the highlights plus the thing about the “Smitty” Harris Post Office.
This list will only get longer unless the filibuster is reformed.
If any of these issues are important to you, Pat Leahy is blocking the way. As far as can be determined, Leahy sees Senate traditions as more important than all of these pieces of legislation. Harsh, but true.
Leahy is far from alone among filibuster-fuzzy Democrats. All of them should be pressed to take a stand. None of them should get away with hiding behind Joe Manchin.
One of them represents Vermonters. (Our other senator, Bernie Sanders, has said the filibuster must be reformed if a progressive agenda is to be enacted.)
Is preserving the filibuster worth losing election reform, policing reform, extending civil rights to LGBTQ+, expanding the rights of immigrants, closing background-check loopholes, D.C. statehood, and much more?
I say no. And if any doubt remains, there’s a simple Plan B. Return the filibuster to its actual traditional status. Make it a talking filibuster again. Require members to take and hold the floor in order to block Senate procedure.
Well, Senator? We’re waiting for you to come down off the mountain and let us all know where you stand.