From Hartmann ReportIf the filibuster can't be done away with or turned into a "Jimmy Stewart filibuster," then Congress has the obligation to Act on the "Nuclear Option"
The US Senate is back in session this week, as Texas Republicans prepare to pass another massive voter suppression bill. The only remedy available to the American people is for the federal government to use its constitutional authority to regulate federal elections to block what President Biden has referred to as the GOP's "Jim Crow in the 21st century."
The House of Representatives passed a law that would block much of the damage done by Texas' and other Red states' laws the For The People Act (HR1 and SB1). But Republicans in the Senate are blocking it with a filibuster.
But the filibuster is not inviolable.
The Senate has drilled three major holes in the filibuster since 1917, each time citing the Constitution as their rationale, and if they're not able to end this arcane, historically racist device then it's time to drill another "constitutional" hole in it for voting rights.
About those already-passed "constitutional" holes:
The filibuster was made possible by a Senate rule change in 1806, but didn't actually get used as a serious way to block debate on legislation until the arrival of "Father of the Confederacy" John C. Calhoun in the Senate; he began using it aggressively in 1837 to block any discussion of the abolition of slavery. (The year before, in 1836, the House had banned any discussion of slavery at all, a law John Quincy Adams delighted in breaking every day the House was in session.)
When a senator invoked a filibuster, it ground the entire Senate to a halt until the original proposed legislation was withdrawn, causing the near-instant death of numerous attempts by Northern senators to weaken or cripple laws relating to slavery in the South. There was quite literally no way around it, or to continue Senate business, other than to withdraw the proposed legislation.
By 1917, it had mostly been used to block discussion (post-Civil War) of Civil Rights legislation, although with World War I looming and German submarines regularly torpedoing US commercial ships, President Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to appropriate money to arm some of those Merchant Marine ships with anti-submarine depth charges.
Southern members of Congress, led by House Majority Leader and notorious white supremacist Claude Kitchin (D-NC), opposed the measure because he and his southern buddies were still essentially fighting the Civil War and didn't want to "further enrich Wall Street."
Over a dozen of Kitchin's allies in the Senate declared a filibuster and President Wilson, furious, went to the public.
The March 5, 1917 New York Times front page was filled all the way across the top with the screaming headline: ARMED SHIP BILL BEATEN; PRESIDENT ISSUES A STATEMENT SAYING WE ARE MADE "HELPLESS AND CONTEMPTIBLE," WITHOUT REMEDY UNTIL THE SENATE AMENDS ITS RULES; 33 SENATORS ALREADY PLEDGED TO END OBSTRUCTION.
"The Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action," stormed President Wilson. "A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible."
The nation erupted.
Filibustering senators were burned in effigy in multiple states and newspapers across the nation called for their defeat in the next election. People were outraged. It was the talk of barbershops and Grange halls and the VFW.
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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)