A "Jimmy Stewart Filibuster" Would Pass HR 1 & Save American Democracy

Thom plus logo HR1, the For The People Act, is probably the most consequential piece of legislation of the century. Consequential, at least, in the positive sense: with GOP voter suppression efforts spreading across the country, the future of both the Democratic Party and democracy itself is on the line.

As First Lady Michelle Obama said, "I urge the Senate to follow suit and pass this bill as soon as possible — because there is nothing more important to the health and future of our democracy than safeguarding the right to vote."

This bill would reform our election process to make it cleaner, fairer, more secure and easier to audit. It would effectively block most of the Republican voter suppression efforts that are now making their ways through state legislatures to make it harder to vote.

It would also end the process of politicians picking their voters rather than the other way around, something called gerrymandering. And it would make it more difficult for billionaires and corporations on the left or the right to hide the way they're using their money to influence politics.

All of which is why Republicans are going to filibuster it.

Most Americans think the filibuster is what was portrayed in Frank Capra's 1939 movie, starring Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

They believe that if senators have a principled objection to a piece of legislation, they can simply stand on the floor of the Senate and pontificate about it, preventing any possibility of a vote on it as long as the filibuster supporters remain together on the floor of the Senate and one of them is standing and speaking. When they and all their friends have exhausted all their words or can't keep 40 senators in the chamber, then the vote happens.

In actual practice, however, that's not how it works at all. All a Republican has to do to filibuster a Democratic bill (or vice a versa) is to simply object to a vote being held on that particular piece of legislation. They can even do it by email.

At that point, the side that has introduced the legislation has to gather 60 votes for passage, 10 more than needed for a majority when you include the Vice President's vote.

Democrats used this against crackpot Republican Supreme Court nominees for years, until Mitch McConnell decided that enough was enough and ended the filibuster as it applied to SCOTUS nominees so he could get Brett Kavanaugh a lifetime appointment on the Court.

The filibuster can be eliminated by a simple majority vote in the Senate. All 50 Democrats plus Vice President Harris could pull it off.

Ironically, because it's a simple change to the rules of the Senate rather than a piece of legislation, the process of ending the filibuster cannot be filibustered.

But at least two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, have explicitly said they're opposed to ending the filibuster because, both have said, they think that the idea of debate is essential and intrinsic to the Senate itself.

Senator Sinema said she wanted to keep the filibuster so the Senate could "fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans." Without the filibuster, Joe Manchin said, the Senate would simply become a smaller version of the US House of Representatives, something he "would not tolerate."

Yet, at this moment, the future of American democracy rests on the passage of HR1 and its process for cleaning up our highly corrupted electoral system.

If the filibuster is standing in its way, and these two senators and perhaps a few others are opposed to ending it, how about an alternative? Let's simply reform the filibuster so debate is actually encouraged, senators can't just email in their objection, and a vote will ultimately happen if the filibustering senators can't hold their caucus together.

If the Senate were to adopt a new set of rules around the filibuster that make it work pretty much the way it did in Jimmy Stewart's movie, the Senate could have hours, even days of debate but eventually would have to get around to a vote which would win or lose by a simple majority.

That's called democracy.

There's not a single senator who, if he or she won their election by a single vote, would fail to take their seat in the United States Senate. They're all in favor of democracy when it comes to their own elections.

Having a "Jimmy Stewart filibuster" would force the objecting party to actually come up with arguments, and all of America could see and hear those arguments. The objectors would have to actually work on behalf of their objection!

So let's change the rules of the Senate to say that there can be plenty of debate, lots of debate, hours and even days of debate as long as all 40 of the objecting senators remain on the floor of the Senate, but at the end there must be a vote and when that vote is taken the majority will prevail…as the Founders intended.


Originally posted on thomhartmann.medium.com.


Riverplunge's picture
Riverplunge 3 years 15 weeks ago

Well, maybe one day when Republican voters realize they

have been ripped off and fooled.

They will vote for the party that does things for the average worker

and not the rich.

Untill then we will have all this s**t to deal with.

napaeric's picture
napaeric 3 years 15 weeks ago

The Republicans do tend to take liberties with the rules of Congress and also the rules of law. Each time the country is really in trouble has been during and after a Republican lead government. Then a Democrat lead government needs to come in and fix things.

Only to then have the Republicans again use every dirty trick in the book to get elected again and once again make a mess out of the county. It is tiring to watch this play out over the years, but it is our history.

alis volat's picture
alis volat 3 years 15 weeks ago

The filibuster is a big big power trip. It's the gift senators give themselves.

Look it up and you will see that Sinema has a fascinating education and background. Manchin is a millionaire who pulled himself up by his daddy's bootstraps. I am not saying he hasn't worked hard, I just think it's contemptible that he is fighting for a lower wage increase and wants to keep this power. I hope Sinema changes her mind, but she may be thinking the same thing he is.

The democrats willing to give up their power trip are making a sacrifice for the greater good of democracy and struggling Americans. They are there to legislate and will leave the veto power in the hands of the executive branch where it belongs.

You can measure a person's character by how they use their power. It's true for parents, spouses, guardians, bosses, teachers, medical providers, leaders, law enforcers and law makers.

We need to get to work on senate seats for the mid-term election.

Legend 3 years 15 weeks ago

Money is the key issue. Senators do not vote their conscience. They vote based on the money that the Party doles out to them. Mitch is very careful on who gets what. You vote his way or also face a primary run. Then to top it off the Senate is conrolled by small states. It takes 22 of the lower population states to add up to Californias 39 million population. They get 44 Senators CA gets 2.

The Republicans are great at naming bills. Democrats not so much. $15 minimum wage scares away too many people. Reality is it is not $15 until 2026. Starts out at $10 and increases $1 each year. Name it the $10 Minimum Wage Bill.

Worn out door knobs's picture
Worn out door knobs 3 years 15 weeks ago

Interesting attempt by the Democrats to take away debate. When the Republicans were in the majority, you didn't hear talk of doing away with the filibuster, even though they didn't have the 60 votes necessary to stop a filibuster. The Republicans did not want to oppress the opinions of the minority.
Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster on Nominees 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senate-poised-to-limit-filibusters-in-party-line-vote-that-would-alter-centuries-of-precedent/2013/11/21/d065cfe8-52b6-11e3-9fe0-fd2ca728e67c_story.html

Republicans simply extended Reid's decision to include Supreme Court Nominees.

The Senate is not the House of Representatives. The Senate is designed to encourage debate. It needs to remain that way.

Legend 3 years 15 weeks ago

The most important vote that the Senate does is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. We now have 3 Justices that were elected with a 51% vote threshold thanks to Mitch. So if that is not important enough for Filibuster what is? If you read Thoms post you would realize that the current filibuster rule discourages debate. Because they do not have to debate.

Worn out door knobs's picture
Worn out door knobs 3 years 15 weeks ago

Soooo, what you are saying is by removing the filibuster on judical appointments, the senate has eliminated debate and If the filibuster were eliminated on all matters in the Senate, debate would increase. Pardon me for laughing, but where is the logic?

Legend 3 years 15 weeks ago

Did you read the article?

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