In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.) Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated her opposition for nuking the filibuster. She warned that this maneuver would further weaken American democracy and allow lawmakers to adopt divisive legislation.
Sinema stated that she supports two bills being introduced by Democrats to reform the federal election rules. She also decried Republican-led efforts to restrict voting in some states—efforts that she said “have no place in a nation whose government is formed by free, fair, and open elections”—and endorsed legal and legislative attempts to stop them.
However, she believes they don’t provide a compelling reason for the elimination of filibuster. Sinema stated that while she supports these bills, “I will not support any separate actions that further the underlying disease infected our country with division.” Sinema said that filibuster prevents “wild reversals of federal policy” in the United States and protects minority viewpoints.
“Eliminating the threshold of 60 votes will just guarantee that the critical tool we need to preserve our democracy in years to come is gone,” she said.
Sinema had been stating this fact for several months. But, her words have been brought back to the forefront by President Joe Biden’s Tuesday declaration that he is willing to end the filibuster in order pass those two election bills. Biden compared senators defending the filibuster—including Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.)—to the likes of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and segregationist Gov. George Wallace.
Biden also stated that eliminating the filibuster would enable the Senate majority to win. However, when it comes down to overturning filibuster the majority It is prevailing—Democrats have, at most, only 48 votes to change the rules.
Sinema gave a speech that was quite different from Biden’s. She presented articulate, nuanced arguments for maintaining the Senate’s 60 vote threshold to pass legislation.
According to her, the opinions of the parties on the filibuster change with each passing Senate majority. The 60-vote requirement is either a “frustration”, or a “safety network” depending on which party holds the power. Democrats have used filibuster to stop the proposed policies of President Donald Trump, as Republicans did to slow the agenda of President Barack Obama.
What is the legislative filibuster besides a tool to require new federal policies to be supported broadly by senators from a wider cross-section of Americans? Sinema asked. “Demands for the elimination of this threshold from any party holding the fleeting majority” have widened political divides.
The past proves this. In 2013, then–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) In 2013, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the then-Senate Majority Leader, abolished filibuster to nominate lower-court judges. This was allegedly done in order for Democrats to confirm more of Barack Obama’s nominees for the federal bench. What did it all mean in the end? President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate installed nearly as many federal judges in four years as Trump’s predecessor did in eight—prompting liberals to howl about a conservative overhaul of the federal courts.
The Republicans took the next step and abolished the filibuster to nominate Supreme Court judges. What did the result look like? It was a political circus.
As Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) warned Democrats earlier this week, abolishing the legislative filibuster will grease the skids for a future Republican administration to push through new policies that Democrats would otherwise be able to stop.
He stated that there is a good chance Republicans will win the two houses of Congress and that Donald Trump could be elected President in 2024. “Have Democrats thought what it would mean for them—for the Democrat minority—to have no power whatsoever?” Sinema will be reprimanded if that happens.
Sinema’s most memorable statement on Thursday was not related to the zero-sum nature of Senate vote counting.
Sinema claimed that calls to eliminate the filibuster amount to one party claiming it is the only political party with the right vision of how America should function.
She’s right. She’s right. True believers, career partisans, and even true believers may want to help their team win. But a healthy democracy requires a range of views and balance. While the filibuster is unlikely to be successful in a politics where all issues are a matter of life and death, it has been a valuable proxy that shows why this kind of culture can lead to a corrosive environment. The only way a democracy can function is when each faction realizes that it doesn’t have the power to make all of the decisions.
A senator must be able support policy ideas, but also recognize that they may not always achieve the outcome desired. Sinema refuses to break the system in order to get a bill passed.
Sinema stated that if one party can only negotiate with itself policy will be inextricably pushed from middle to the extremes. “It is clear that the two parties’ strategies are not working—not for either side and especially not for the country.”