After narrowly passing the latest wave of pandemic relief, congressional Democrats are looking to pass landmark voting rights legislation as well as a host of other ambitious policies—but the Senate filibuster, which imposes a 60 vote threshold for most legislation to advance past debate, is standing in the way.
The filibuster is not in the Constitution and was only made possible through a Senate rules change in the early 1800s. It has a long history of being weaponized to block civil rights legislation.
As more Democrats express openness to reforming the filibuster or abolishing it altogether, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is on a crusade of intimidation against any changes whatsoever. Earlier this month, McConnell vowed that Democrats would see a scorched earth Senate beyond their worst imaginings if they did away with the 60 vote threshold.
And in a Tuesday press conference, McConnell took on one of the primary criticisms the filibuster faces: its racist history.
Or, as McConnell presented it, its lack of racist history.
I asked GOP Leader Mitch #McConnell, who describes characterization of the #filibuster as rooted in racism as "nons… https://t.co/ykOMKUmPFS— Eva McKend (@Eva McKend) 1616527852.0
When asked about his imminent use of the filibuster to block the House-approved election reform bill, the For the People Act, in the context of the filibuster's racial history, McConnell responded:
"Actually historians do not agree, it has no racial history at all. So, there's no dispute among historians about that."
In an exhaustive Twitter thread, historian Kevin M. Kruse responded to McConnell's claims with some of the times the filibuster was weaponized to fight efforts toward racial equity.
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1874 Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1875 Filibuster against a pensio… https://t.co/onGg3upHkI— Kevin M. Kruse (@Kevin M. Kruse) 1616533657.0
He wasn't the only one to call out McConnell.
Strom Thurmond filibustered Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 min "In the 87 years between the end of… https://t.co/BXm6XKEUR4— Ari Berman (@Ari Berman) 1616525492.0
Historian here...McConnell is wrong. https://t.co/DozzxfWMGJ— Dr. Adam H. Domby (@Dr. Adam H. Domby) 1616524971.0
What the hell?!!! #WeWontGoBack https://t.co/xO6qu8kWuo https://t.co/MpT8HlC6VQ— Jaime Harrison, DNC Chair (@Jaime Harrison, DNC Chair) 1616541840.0
The filibuster is a relic of Jim Crow and was used to block civil rights progress. Read @AJentleson's book KILL SWI… https://t.co/Juq6slEPoe— Wajahat Ali (@Wajahat Ali) 1616530075.0
you don't say? https://t.co/1gkHYhA5nw https://t.co/qvvFLiq3gv— blackness everdeen 🐺 (@blackness everdeen 🐺) 1616524369.0
For decades, the House passed bills to outlaw discrimination and protect the right of Black citizens to vote, only… https://t.co/8vM4XMbo5r— James LaPorta (@James LaPorta) 1616537541.0
McConnell's spokesman later claimed he was only talking about the "origins" of the filibuster, and then provided an incomplete Politifact quote.
The day after McConnell said historians weren't in dispute about the filibuster, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei of Axios reported that President Joe Biden is prepared to support "chucking" the filibuster in order to pass bold legislation without Republican supprt.
According to Axios, he came to that conclusion after an undisclosed meeting with a group of historians.