Mar 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren calls Senate filibuster racist

Picture of Elizabeth Warren giving a pinky promise to a little girl.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren gives one of her famous pinky promises to 5-year-old Evelyn Baker on a nurses' picket line in Worcester, Mass., last week. Photo: Ashley Green / Telegram & Gazette via Reuters

Signaling a coming case by progressives, Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Axios the Senate's legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation, wasn't a creation of the founding fathers.

What she's saying: "The filibuster has deep roots in racism, and it should not be permitted to serve that function, or to create a veto for the minority. In a democracy, it's majority rules."

The big picture: A leading theme among progressive Democrats is to ramp up moral pressure on more skeptical members of their caucus who are skeptical of reforming the filibuster.

  • Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) also played on this theme in a conversation with Axios' Kadia Goba.
  • "It's important that we not continue to allow the filibuster to be a tool used to suppress the right to vote, that black people have fought and died for," Johnson said, adding that he thinks moderate Democrats should consider changes to the Senate rule that would exclude it from applying to voting rights legislation.
  • Playing on these members' legacy is also an emerging theme in their persuasion tactics, senior Democratic aides tell Axios. Do they really want to be remembered as standing in the way of the administration's ability to enact significant policy when Democrats not only control the White House but both chambers of Congress?

Context: Warren explained to Axios that, during the Constitutional Convention, "the founders debated whether to require a supermajority in either House of Congress, and decided that government would function more effectively if both the Senate and the House worked by simple majority."

  • "When they didn't want a simple majority, for example in an impeachment, they said so specifically. The filibuster is a later creation that was designed to give the South the ability to veto any effective civil rights legislation or anti lynching legislation."
  • This understanding of the filibuster's origins is in part what's driving many Democrats' hopes at using their voting rights package to try and convince those on the fence to support changes.

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