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Bring Back the Talking Filibuster

Senators who want to stop a bill should have to put their mouth where their money is.
January 20, 2022
Tim Miller: Bring Back The Talking Filibuster

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Donald J. Trump: The do-nothing Democrats.

Journalist: Do-nothing Democrats.

Sean Hannity: Do-nothing Democrats.

Chuck Schumer: What am I supposed to say?

Characters from Spaceballs: Do something! Do something! Do something!?

Shia LaBeouf: Do it.

AOL logoff voice: Good bye.

Tim Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark.

So the Democrats’ agenda is stalled, despite the party having complete control of Washington.

Jim Halper: That seems a little unfair.

Mitch McConnell puppet from Let’s Be Real: Yeeees?

Miller: Part of that is due to a failure in strategy, another part to the Republicans’ complete unwillingness to compromise. But the main thing holding Dems back is something much more sneaky and intractable: our friend the filibuster.

Leslie Knope: Filibuster.

Selina Meyer: Filibuster.

Charlie Kelly: Filibuster.

Miller: This bad little bird is a Senate rule that forces almost all legislation to get 60 votes to pass rather than a simple majority of 51 votes. So what can be done about it?

Cady Heron: Please let me know.

Miller: Get in loser, we’re going filibusting.

First, the backstory. The traditionalist, Mitch McConnell crowd would have you believe that our wise and infallible slave-owning Founders enshrined the filibuster into law as a vital tool to protect our democratic republic.

Felonious Gru: Yeah, not so much.

Miller: The Truth? The filibuster ain’t in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson rebuked anyone who spoke “impertinently  . . ., superfluous[ly], or tediously.” Hamilton called the idea of giving the minority veto power “a poison.” But eventually senators found a way to flex their power. And by 1837, we got our first talking filibuster—

Gene Hackman: What the hell is that?

Miller: This weaponized long-winded debate to stall and prevent an unwanted bill from ever coming to a vote.

Andy Bernard: That is just obnoxious.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street): I know, right? I know.

Miller: Fast-forward to the present and our listless senators have swapped the “talkie” for something much lazier. These **** just write in a little note saying they want to filibuster and debate is stopped on the bill until there are 60 votes to overrule it.

Simon Seville: Isn’t that like cheating?

Miller: As a result, we now have more filibusters in a year than they did in the entire 1800s. And Congress is stuck in a permanent L.A.-rush-hour-level gridlock.

Ice Cube: That ain’t no progress.

Brian Williams: The lack of deliverables—

Walter White: —is unacceptable.

Miller: So naturally many Democrats want to dump the filibuster altogether and people like Jim Clyburn have suggested a more narrow carveout specifically to get voting rights passed.

James Clyburn: The filibuster is not in the Constitution. . . . It’s not a law.

Miller: But they would need all 50 Democrats in the Senate to do so. There are two public holdouts, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, and rumors of a few more who are keeping their pro-filibuster stance private.

But here’s one thing that should be private: going to the bathroom. But that hasn’t stopped angry left-wing activists from hounding Sinema and Manchin all the way into the stalls.

Voiceover: Yep, they’re still there when she comes out of the stall.

Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser in The Mummy 3): You can run, but you can’t hide.

Jesse Pinkman: Occupied.

Miller: This strategy hasn’t worked and the two have maintained their pro-filibuster stance. Some of their reasoning is bad, like this.

Kyrsten Sinema: I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our county.

Miller: If the filibuster was stopping the “disease of division,” wouldn’t we have seen some evidence of that by now. It was the filibuster that allowed for an unholy alliance between Republican and Democratic whites who wanted to block civil rights legislation back in the Sixties. Now that’s divisive.

Sterling K. Brown (as Chris Darden in The People v. O. J. Simpson): Racially insensitive and divisive.

Miller: But there are some prudent strategic arguments for the Democrats to keep it.

Sinema: If there were an attempt to get rid of women’s health care decisions or protections for the LGBTQ community, I would want to make sure we had that tool available.

Howard (John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane): That’s not a bad point.

Miller: Sometimes it’s a good tool for your side to have. For instance, in 2019, when the Democrats were in the minority, they relied on the filibuster to prevent construction of Trump’s border wall. And the Senate favors smaller rural states, so it has a natural bias towards Republicans. I never understood why progressive activists, aren’t more nervous to give increased power to a future Mitch McConnell-led Senate.

McConnell puppet: Well this is just nonsense.

Miller: What do I think we should do? Bring back the talkies. This would stop the shady practice of blocking legislation without having to lift a finger and force the blockers to put their mouth where their money is with the whole world watching. So if Republicans want to block voting rights, make them step up and explain it for as long as they think it’s worthwhile. If anything, that might help the Democrats get the apathetic broader electorate to care more about this issue. Now the talkie won’t be a magic elixir for curing the disease of division either. But who knows? It might give this dangerous creature something to support.

Guy: Eh, she’ll come around.

Sinema: Everyone makes their own decision.

Miller: Disagree? DM me and tell me that I’m wrong. And we’ll see you next week for more on “Not My Party.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.