Dec 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democratic candidates focus on filibuster

An illustration shows a hammer breaking a microphone.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic Senate candidates across the board are campaigning on a message to reform the filibuster as they seek to increase their party's majority next year.

Why it matters: Candidates have traditionally run by telling voters what policies they'll enact in office. Now, they're highlighting the tool they want to use to pass such things as voting rights legislation, a minimum wage increase and abortion access safeguards.

In Pennsylvania: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman told Axios: "It's incumbent on us as a party to use the opportunities that we have," referring to Democrats' Washington trifecta of controlling the House, Senate and White House.

  • "Voters gave us a mandate and we need to get things done, especially in the areas of like voter suppression and Roe v. Woe and minimum wage."
  • Two of his primary Senate campaign rivals, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, also support nixing the filibuster.

In Wisconsin: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes supports eliminating the filibuster as a means of passing voter rights legislation that's been stalled in the U.S. Senate.

  • Barnes and three of his rivals, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, all see abolishing the filibuster as a first step to increasing protections for workers trying to organize.

In North Carolina: Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court now seeking a Senate nomination, recently clarified her position after saying she'd been misquoted.

  • She called the filibuster "a tool of gridlock, which stops and prohibits the passage of the kind of legislation that the majority of the American people support."

Driving the news: In some of the most competitive Senate races, a vast majority of Democratic candidates agree on at least one thing: doing away with the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for major legislation.

  • Many are in favor of removing the threat of the filibuster altogether, while others advocate carveouts for issues such as voting rights.
  • Their position is a reflection of a caucus that — with a current 50-50 chamber — is increasingly interested in finding a way to push through legislation with the simple majority Vice President Kamala Harris provides when she votes in the Senate.

Between the lines: The current 60-vote rule empowers Republicans, even though the Harris tie-breaking vote puts them in the minority.

  • It also means holdout Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have outsized influence on major policy items, including abandoning the filibuster itself.
  • They can dictate policy on things like President Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending plan, because their defection deprives Democrats even of their simple majority.
  • Midterm trends, redistricting and current polling make it extremely unlikely Democrats will secure a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority, but picking up two or three open seats — say, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina — would open the opportunity to circumvent the filibuster in 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski's stance on the filibuster.

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