“Without ending the filibuster, we are not going to be able to pass what the majority of Americans want.”
Hundreds gathered at Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix Thursday night to call on Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to support ending the filibuster.
The filibuster is a Senate rule that allows a senator to stop a bill from coming to a vote. It takes 60 votes to override a filibuster, meaning it would take bipartisan support to do so in the evenly split Senate.
Democrats have accused Republicans of using the rule to block legislation from moving through Congress and are calling for an end to the rule, or at least changes to make it more difficult to use.
Some examples of recent legislation that has passed the House but is expected to die in the Senate due to the lack of support from the GOP include a bill establishing a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and the For the People Act.
Republican senators also resisted the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package—the one that included $1,400 stimulus checks. Democrats were able to get it passed using a legislative tool called budget reconciliation, which allowed them to avoid a filibuster and approve the bill with a simple majority.
Arizonans who attended the rally last week cited these GOP blockages in Congress as reasons they want the rule gone.
Anna Deogratias, a communications fellow with the Arizona Students’ Association, said she’s tired of the filibuster being used to block the will of the people.
“[GOP lawmakers] are just doing different tricks in order for us to not advocate for ourselves and voice our opinions,” Deogratias told The Copper Courier.
Bonnie Oakes of north Phoenix said she’s also frustrated with legislation almost always stalling in the Senate.
“The Democrats finally have a majority in the White House and Congress,” Oakes said, “and it’s time to use it, because the GOP is just obstructionism now.”
Holding up Legislation
Rally attendees spoke of specific legislation they would like to see become law but feel doesn’t have a chance unless the filibuster is removed.
Oakes held a sign that listed the For the People Act (also known as HR 1/S 1), as well as legislation involving climate change, women’s rights, and gun safety, in a “filibuster graveyard.”
The For the People Act, for example, is a sweeping package of protection for voting rights with measures that are widely popular among Americans. It would establish automatic and same-day voter registration, set national standards for early and mail-in voting, and make Election Day a federal holiday. But the bill is expected to stall out in the Senate.
Michael Martinez, a member of the hospitality union Unite Here Local 11, also wants to see the For the People Act pass. To him, it’s essential that felons in all states have the opportunity to vote again—a component of the bill—as long as they are out of prison.
“If we really want them to be fully integrated into society, why don’t we offer [the right to vote] to them?” Martinez said. “They should have a voice in our democracy.”
A Past Rooted in Racism
Martinez also cited the filibuster’s history of being used to block legislation supporting Black Americans as a reason it needs to go.
“It has really a dark legacy in as far as stopping the advancement of civil rights bills,” he said.
In 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond gave the longest filibuster in US history—24 consecutive hours—in an effort to block a civil rights bill. It ultimately ended up passing.
Two political scientists found that half of all bills shut down by filibuster from 1917 to 1994 had to do with civil rights.
Kevin Kruse, a Princeton University historian, told Vox the filibuster has been “a tool used overwhelmingly by racists.”
Where Lawmakers Stand
Speakers at the End the Filibuster Rally in Phoenix called on Sinema to support ending the filibuster. She and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are known as the biggest Democratic defenders of the filibuster in the Senate.
Arizona’s other senator, Democrat Mark Kelly, has avoided publicly stating where he stands on the issue.
“Well, when we get to the point where we’re going to have, you know, a serious discussion about this, I’ll make a decision based on what’s in the best interest of Arizona and the country,” he told reporters in April.
The Washington Post reported in March that only a fifth of Senate Democrats stated support for fully ending the filibuster. But some who want to keep the rule in place are still willing to make changes to make it more difficult to use.
President Joe Biden falls into this camp. He has said he supports bringing back the “talking filibuster,” in which senators speak on the floor for as long as they can to delay a vote.
Over time, that practice has morphed into a much easier procedure—now senators can shut down debate by simply sending an email stating their objection.
“Without ending the filibuster,” Oakes said during last week’s rally, “we are not going to be able to pass what the majority of Americans want.”