How To Bust The Filibuster
Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #19)
Welcome back to the fight for H.R. 1 with your host, Kevin! It has been a busy week since I last wrote to you. I have plenty of updates and will have plenty more next week, so don’t forget to subscribe!
First, as I’m sure you saw, the Senate held a vote Tuesday to proceed to debate on the For The People Act (S. 1). This was a critical step in the legislative process. Unfortunately, for debate to start, 60 senators needed to vote in the affirmative (due to the filibuster). Since no Republicans wanted to start debate, the vote failed. But, as I said last week, we knew that would happen.
Here’s the good news: The entire Democratic Caucus, including Senator Manchin, voted in favor of moving to debate. That means we have commitments from a majority of senators (with Vice President Harris as a tie-breaker) to do something about voting rights. This is a major development.
Work still has to be done to get Sen. Manchin to agree to as much of the original For The People Act as possible. (He still opposes the bill as written.) But, for now, we should celebrate the unified Democratic caucus and remind ourselves that this fight is far from over — a sentiment echoed by Senator Schumer in a fiery floor speech.
So what’s next? Chair of the Rules Committee and S. 1 champion, Senator Klobuchar, announced that the Committee will hold field hearings on the anti-voter laws being passed at the state-level. The hope is that this raises the stakes of the battle and continues to build support within the caucus for reform.
While this is happening, the Senate will enter July recess, and it will be up to us to generate mass pressure to reform the filibuster. A majority of Senators should be able to pass legislation that the American people support. But the filibuster will only be reformed if there is a groundswell of advocacy from Americans across the country.
There are many upcoming S. 1 events, both in-person and virtual that you, your family, and friends can join (see below). We need everyone to step up to protect our democracy.
To recap: This fight is exactly where we thought it would be at this point, and this bill is far from dead. We can get the For The People Act to President Biden’s desk, but only if we continue to demand action.
Democracy vs. Filibuster
The Democratic senate majority faces a choice: preserve an arcane procedural rule or save democracy. This choice takes courage; standing up to anti-democratic forces always does. However, the correct course of action is obvious. For the sake of our country, Democrats must reform or eliminate the 60 vote threshold to move forward with a bill (i.e. “cloture”). Republicans will never come to the table to protect voting rights and curb the influence of big money in politics. For this reason, even the Washington Post editorial board has started advocating for filibuster reform so long as Republicans remain incalcitrant.
The Democrats would be serving Americans by reforming the filibuster to advance the For The People Act. Poll after poll shows that Americans support the bill, and the majority of senators should not let a minority of senators (representing significantly fewer Americans) block such popular legislation.
As Senator Manchin said, “Inaction is not an option.” So what might action on the filibuster look like? Here are six possibilities:
Democracy Exception: The Senate could make legislation related to election law exempt from the filibuster. For example, Biden’s wildly popular Covid relief package was able to pass with a simple majority through a process called budget reconciliation (which is exempt from the filibuster). A similar exemption could be designed for democracy legislation.
Talking filibuster: The Senate could bring back the “talking” filibuster, wherein the senators who want to hold up a bill have to talk on the Senate floor for the duration of the filibuster. Once they can’t talk anymore, a vote to proceed can be held and it would only require 51 votes to pass.
Reduce cloture: Currently, the Senate requires 60 votes to end debate (i.e. to invoke cloture) and stop a filibuster. The Senate could reduce this requirement to something more attainable (say, 55).
Slowly reduce cloture: There are many ways this idea could be implemented, but the general premise is that the party in the minority should not be able to obstruct progress forever. Instead, after a certain amount of time, the cloture threshold would steadily be reduced. For example, after a week of a filibuster, the threshold to end debate could drop from 60 votes to 57. After two weeks, it could drop to 55. And so on. This reduction would stop at 51, wherein a simple majority could pass the legislation.
Population majority: To make the filibuster more democratic, the rules could be changed to allow a majority of senators representing a majority of the American population to break a filibuster.
Elimination: The simplest option is to reduce the cloture threshold to 51. Thus, a simple majority could move forward with legislation and the party in the minority could not filibuster.
These are just a few of the possible reforms to the Senate filibuster. There are some that I prefer over others. However, at the end of the day, the Democratic caucus should choose whichever reform allows them to fulfill their duty to the American people and pass essential legislation like the For The People Act.
Events for You to Join!
We must pressure Senators to continue to support the For The People Act and to commit to reforming the filibuster to protect democracy. We need a groundswell of grassroots mobilization from as many people as possible. Please plug into these events to show your support:
June 26th @ 1:30 pm: Join Black Voters Matter as they host their final Freedom Ride in Washington D.C. outside the Lincoln Memorial.
June 28th - July 10th: Join a variety of events organized under the umbrella multi-week campaign, Deadline For Democracy, hosted by Indivisible and DFAD. There will be events all across the country to generate buzz about the For The People Act. The goal is for these events to build so much pressure that when the Senate returns from their summer recess they have no choice but to pass the For The People Act.
Anytime: Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action is hosting Hot Call Summer. Plug into their actions here.
Don’t forget to subscribe to get more updates about the For The People Act and exciting events in the future!
In the News:
Ari Berman of Mother Jones explains how our broken democracy makes it hard to fix democracy. Democratic senators represent 43 million more Americans than Republicans and comprise a majority in the Senate — yet cannot currently pass their agenda.
The Intercept’s Ryan Grim breaks down Tuesday’s big vote and Manchin’s support for voting rights reform. He focuses on the evolution of Manchin from an opponent of the For The People Act to voting to advance debate on it.
The Washington Post tracks Democratic senators’ positions on filibuster reform. Their analysis finds that 19 senators support elimination of the filibuster, 14 support some changes, 15 are open to changes, and 2 oppose any changes.
You can also check out the Equal Citizens filibuster tracker here. But we use different categories than the Post so don’t worry too much about any differences between the two.
The Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Hira explains why the For The People Act is the ‘Next Great Civil Rights Bill’ and why we need grassroots activism to rally in support of it. Hira chronicles the bipartisan popularity of the bill, the voting rights and anti-gerrymandering provisions contained within it, and why the small-donor public financing program of S. 1 is so critical.
Don’t forget to keep your friends, family, and colleagues in the loop by sharing this Substack with them!
Social Media Roundup:
Let’s be frank: there are A LOT of tweets, posts, and general conversation about the For The People Act. In this section, we give you an overview of the tweets and media you really need to see.
More Ways to Help!
We are entering possibly one of the most critical moments for American democracy since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We need all the help we can get to push the For The People Act over the finish line! Here are more ways to join the fight to protect American democracy:
Call your senators and tell them that you support reforming the filibuster to pass H.R. 1. You can find your senators’ phone numbers, as well as where they stand on the filibuster, using our handy filibuster tracker!
Common Cause, Center for Common Ground, RepresentUs, and End Citizens United host regular phone banks in support of the For the People Act. This is a great opportunity to spread the word about H.R. 1 and help constituents contact their Senators in support of the bill. Check them out here, here, here, and here.
Common Cause also hosts regular text banks on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sign up to join them here.
Write a letter to the editor in your local paper sharing your support of H.R. 1 and urging your Senators to pass it. Not sure how to write a letter to the editor? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help!
Share our newsletter, our podcast, the articles included above, and the resources on H.R. 1 below on social media and tell your friends why you support #ForThePeopleAct
If, after reading our newsletter, you still want to know more about the For The People Act or Equal Citizens you can find more information here! If you have questions about H.R. 1 you want us to answer in our Substack, tweet at us with #HR1Substack! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more updates throughout the week.
Here are a few resources on the “For the People Act” if you have questions:
Equal Citizens launched a filibuster tracker, so you can see where your senator stands on the filibuster. It also includes their phone numbers and their Twitter handles, so you can get in touch with them directly and push them to support filibuster reform!
Recently, the Brennan Center also published a report on why H.R. 1 brings us closer to an inclusive democracy. Check it out here.
Here is the link to the House website on the For the People Act.
Flood social media with these awesome graphics about the For the People Act!
There is a lot of misinformation about H.R. 1, and the amount of misinformation will only grow as the fight heats up. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone has all the facts on the bill - here is an article from Media Matters that can help you fact check. Additionally, the Brennan Center published a piece to help you decipher fact from fiction. Check it out here.
More About Me:
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and exploring sociology, economics, and applied statistics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or (pre-pandemic) playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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