It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.
As the 2020 election process unfolded, Democrats came to an inexorable conclusion: They could very plausibly take the White House and the Senate, and they could plausibly hold the House, but their victories in those three areas wouldn’t be resounding or historic.
Whoever was nominated, if they won, would win modestly. Once it became clear the nominee was Joe Biden, the polls showed him consistently ahead — but every time he’d start opening up a big lead nationally, it’d snap back like a rubber band. In swing states, that lead was less consistent and considerably smaller, when it existed at all. There was going to be no repudiation of the Republicans or Trumpism.
And most importantly, they weren’t going to get anything near the 60 votes they would need in the Senate to end the filibuster. There was no landslide on tap, no resounding defeat that would force moderate Republicans, tails between their elephantine legs, to vote with them.
Thus, the drum began to be banged, and hard: End the filibuster. Mind you, the first drum majors in the band were on the left fringe. In the Democratic field, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and billionaire tartan-tie enthusiast Tom Steyer were the first candidates whose poll numbers didn’t have to be measured with electron microscopy to embrace it.
Things began to shift as that reality moved more sharply into focus. It’s hard to say when the floodgates well and truly opened on eliminating the filibuster, but it was roughly about when former President Barack Obama gave his eulogy at the funeral of Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis’ funeral.
Obama proposed the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” a piece of legislation that looks shockingly like what Democrats are trying to push through now. During the eulogy, he said that it should pass over any attempt at the filibuster, which he famously called a “Jim Crow relic.”
PERFECT day to re-share Pres Obama’s moving words at John Lewis’s funeral last year on GOP’s racist voter suppression efforts and why we MUST end the “Jim Crow relic” known as the filibuster. Obama’s words ring even truer today after Georgia GOP’s Jim Crow voter suppression laws pic.twitter.com/5MfYIaaei9
— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) March 26, 2021
“Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates, who’ve earned their second chance, by adding polling places, and expanding early voting and making Election Day a national holiday,” Obama said.
“So, if you are somebody who is working in a factory, or you’re a single mom who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington D.C. and in Puerto Rico. They’re Americans. By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around,” he continued.
“And, if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
Rebutting every aspect of that empurpled plea to remake the voting landscape in favor of Democrats would take hours, but that’s not really the issue: It’s that “Jim Crow relic” part, which has been parroted by wide swaths of the Democratic Party over the past few weeks as the pretext to getting rid of the filibuster and passing items on a straight party-line vote. It’s gotten far enough that Joe Biden, during his Thursday news conference, agreed with Obama regarding the filibuster being a “Jim Crow relic” and argued it should be fundamentally changed — if not discarded.
Ironic, then, that the man who popularized the idea of the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic” in 2020 gave an impassioned speech calling for its preservation in 2005:
Sen. Barack Obama in 2005 vigorously defending the filibuster, which he now decries as a “Jim Crow relic:” pic.twitter.com/ha6OrW2vzK
— Christian Schneider (@Schneider_CM) March 25, 2021
In the speech, Obama said voters “expect both parties to work together to get the people’s business done.
“What they don’t expect is for one party — be it Republican or Democrat — to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet,” he continued.
“The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster — if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate — then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.
“I understand that Republicans are getting a lot of pressure to do this from factions outside the chamber. But we need to rise above the ‘ends justify the means’ mentality because we’re here to answer to the people — all of the people — not just the ones that are wearing our particular party label.”
In other words, he sounds exactly like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would today. That one sentence could describe exactly what’s going on in 2021: One party, the Democrats, wants “to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”
For context: In 2005, while Republicans controlled the Senate, many of then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees were getting filibustered by the Democrats. Frustrated, the Bush administration looked toward killing the filibuster on judicial nominees. Democrats like Obama, then a senator from Illinois, pleaded with Senate Republicans to keep the filibuster in place. They did.
Eight years later, Senate Democrats, then in the majority, would kill the judicial filibuster because too many of then-President Obama’s judicial nominees were being filibustered. This ended up backfiring when the Republicans recaptured the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016 — but at the time, Obama approved.
“I support the step a majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business — more specifically, the way the Senate does business,” Obama said.
“What a majority of senators determined by Senate rule is that they would restore the long-standing tradition of considering judicial and public service nominations on a more routine basis.”
This opened the door to the Trump administration’s impressive record on judicial appointments, all made possible through the invocation of the nuclear option — which isn’t quite the point but an object lesson in unintended consequences the Biden administration and Senate Democrats might to study.
Through all of this, however, President Obama never found the time to condemn the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic” because it was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators in the mid-19th century and segregationist senators in the mid-20th.
That would helpful rhetoric back then, had he believed it. Anything legitimately tainted with the legacy of Jim Crow ought to be extirpated and burned. To use the tactic is to poison yourself.
Funny, then, that Democrats never saw the need to get rid of it. Between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 2015, a period of 51 years, the Republicans were in control of the Senate for only 16 years. The Democrats set the rules, then, for 35 years. If it were so pernicious, why didn’t they kill it?
Likewise, why did Barack Obama support it in 2005? Was the 60-vote threshold somehow not a vestige of the days of the separate water fountain 16 years ago?
Keep in mind, too, that Obama was only in the Senate for four years before he moved on to slightly more desirable Washington real estate. He didn’t get much of a chance to use the filibuster.
President Biden, however, was in the Senate for almost 40 years. As Peter Roff pointed out in a U.S. News and World Report piece from 2010, “Biden could be counted on to routinely join Democratic efforts to support filibusters of Republican programs — from the second President Bush’s energy bill to the first President Bush’s effort to cut the tax on capital gains in order to stimulate the U.S. economy and blunt the impact of the early-’90s recession.”
In 2005, too, Biden said that “the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it’s about compromise and moderation.” Now, apparently “compromise and moderation” is nothing more than a Jim Crow relic.
It’s rubbish. All of it is rubbish. The Democrats may indeed open Pandora’s box, but they can’t pretend it’s because Strom Thurmond and James Eastland left a Confederate flag inside and it’s high time America took it out.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.