McConnell blasts Dems for engaging in 'coordinated campaign' to smear Senate filibuster as 'racist'

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday lambasted Democrats for spearheading a “coordinated campaign” to smear the Senate filibuster as a “racist relic” in order to hasten its destruction.

Mr. McConnell took to the Senate floor to accuse Democrats of using “the terrible history of racism to justify a partisan power grab.” The Kentucky Republican, in particular, alleged that Democrats were knowingly parroting false claims about the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to end debate.

“About a year ago, former President [Barack] Obama launched a new, coordinated and very obvious campaign to get liberals repeating the claim that the Senate rules are somehow a relic of racism and bigotry,” Mr. McConnell said.

Noting that “multiple fact-checkers have torn into [that] simplistic notion,” the senator said Democrats were ready to damage “good institutions” for their “far-left” agenda.

The minority leader further stressed that before Democrats had adopted the rhetoric of calling the filibuster racist, they “spent four years defending and … happily using” the tactic.  

“If our Democratic colleagues really believe what they are saying, did they themselves use a racist tool?” Mr. McConnell asked, highlighting that Senate Democrats had filibustered police reform, immigration and COVID-19 relief during the Trump years.  

Mr. McConnell’s remarks come as Democrats entertain notions of abolishing or overhauling the filibuster. The continuing flirtation with the idea arises because of the realities of governing.

Currently, although Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House, the party only has marginal control of the Senate. Within the chamber, both parties are tied at 50 seats, with Democrats in the majority thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Most on the left fear that President Biden’s agenda, particularly his climate change and immigration proposals, will be unable to pass the Senate if 60 votes are required for cloture. 

As such, the president last week floated the idea of changing Senate rules to restore the talking filibuster. The prospect would require lawmakers to continuously speak on the Senate floor when attempting to prevent a vote on legislation. Under current rules, senators are allowed to signal their intent to hold a bill from moving forward, a practice commonly known as a silent filibuster. 

It is unclear if even such an overhaul would have the votes. Although changes to Senate rules only require a simple majority for passage, two members of the Democratic majority, Sens. Joseph Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema, have announced their opposition to changing the filibuster. 

Mr. Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, and Ms. Sinema, a moderate from Arizona, argue alterations to the filibuster would drastically impact the Senate’s role in public life. 

Mr. McConnell, himself, echoed that sentiment from the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.  

“The 60-vote threshold is the reason why huge pillars of domestic policy don’t oscillate back and forth every time a different party wins the majority,” the minority leader said. 

“For a long time, senators on both sides have recognized the Senate and the country are better off with actual stability,” Mr. McConnell added. “Both sides have understood there are no permanent majorities in American politics, so it gives both sides a voice, benefits actually everyone in the long term.” 

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