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Step up Sinema – abolish the filibuster

FILE - In this June 22, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., leaves a closed-door bipartisan infrastructure meeting with a group of senators and White House aides on Capitol Hill in Washington. More than her shock of purple hair or unpredictable votes Sinema is perhaps best known for doing the unthinkable in Washington: spending time on the Republican side of the aisle. Her years in Congress have been a whirlwind of political style and perplexing substance, an anti-war liberal-turned-deal-making centrist who now finds herself at the highest levels of power.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

 In this June 22, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., leaves a closed-door bipartisan infrastructure meeting with a group of senators and White House aides on Capitol Hill in Washington. More than her shock of purple hair or unpredictable votes Sinema is perhaps best known for doing the unthinkable in Washington: spending time on the Republican side of the aisle. Her years in Congress have been a whirlwind of political style and perplexing substance, an anti-war liberal-turned-deal-making centrist who now finds herself at the highest levels of power.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Last week, Senate Republicans again filibustered S1, a landmark voting rights bill passed by the House months ago. But they didn’t do it alone. In their crusade against democracy, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is with them in the trenches, and everyday Americans — including women, people of color, and the Arizonans who elected her — are on the other losing side.   

 For years now, the filibuster has been used and abused by a minority in the Senate to block legislation most Americans support from even being voted on. Without a supermajority to end these filibusters, the Senate floor has become a place where the progressive agenda—and women’s issues specifically—goes to die.  

 That isn’t an accident. By its very nature, the filibuster is anti-democratic, allowing the whining of a few to override the wants of the many. It started out as a tool to uphold slavery in the antebellum South, giving senators from those states the ability to block abolition. Ever since, it’s been used to scuttle anti-lynching laws, sustain segregated schools, and stymie voting rights. That makes the filibuster as racist as the Confederacy or the Klu Klux Klan.  

But make no mistake. The filibuster is sexist, too. While it was originally created to preserve the power of white men, it’s also helped preserve the power of white men. At almost every turn, it’s been used against women — even when it’s used by women. And the harm it has done to us, women of color in particular, is clear.  

 It has been used to block equal pay and access to birth control. It’s why we’ve never codified Roe v. Wade, and why we still lack paid family leave. It’s why we don’t have gun control to keep our kids safe at school or better labor laws to keep ourselves safe at work. It’s the reason a $15 minimum wage — which would disproportionately benefit women workers, especially women of color — is likely dead on arrival, if it ever makes it to the Senate at all, after being cut from the Covid relief package earlier this year.   

The good news, though, is that Sinema can change things. All she and Senate Democrats need to do is eliminate the filibuster.  

Rachel Carmona O’Leary

Rachel Carmona O’Leary

If they do, a better future is in store. It won’t be perfect. After all, there’s no shortage of disagreement in the Senate, even on just one side of the aisle. But progress will finally be a possibility instead of a pipe dream. Real paycheck fairness. Universal child care. A living wage. Reproductive freedom. Eliminating the filibuster is our gateway to enacting the agenda women want and need. 

If they don’t, then President Biden can wave goodbye to any shot he has at governing effectively. Despite his attempts to reach across the aisle, not one Republican senator voted for his Covid relief package. Now, they’re lining up to oppose the infrastructure bill we desperately need. As much as Sinema suggests otherwise, supermajorities aren’t encouraging bipartisanship — especially not in a body so committed to obstructionism.  

And Democrats can wave goodbye to winning the midterms in 2022. I speak for myself and the ten million women who’ve taken to the streets with Women’s March when I say that voters don’t want more excuses. We want results. We elected Democrats to the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives because we’re desperate for the big, bold change they promised while campaigning. If they fail to eliminate the filibuster, they’ll fail to deliver — and fail to engage the voters they need to keep on winning. This isn’t because our communities and movements will have given up on electoral politics. It’s because each day the filibuster stays put, we’re being further disenfranchised from it. 

S1, or the For the People Act, is the perfect example. Its provisions would strengthen the right to vote in America, with outsized impacts on communities of color that are most at risk in our current system. The downstream effects of the bill would be tremendous: automatic registration would enfranchise 50 million new voters, optional mail-in voting would make Election Day easier, and public financing would help oust big money from politics. If we want to put more women in office, put more pro-choice judges on the bench, and put an end to the obscene abortion restrictions that have been coming out of state legislatures lately, then S1 is foundational. 

But with the filibuster, S1 has no chance of passing. It’s simple: every day Sinema drags her feet on eliminating the filibuster — and every day that fellow Democrats and Biden don’t pressure her to change course — is a day our elected representatives are choosing decorum over democracy. Enough is enough. Now is the time to purge the institution of one of its most racist, sexist relics (no, I’m not talking about Mitch McConnell) and abolish the filibuster for good.  

Rachel O’Leary Carmona is executive director of Women’s March.   

One comment

  1. Of course the Senate rules are undemocratic, the United States is not a democracy. The term “democracy” does not appear in any of our founding documents, but the Constitution does guarantee to the states a republican form of government. A republic is not based on the concept of “majority rule.” If the author was taught that our government is a democracy, she was done a great disservice.

    The Constitution not only created the federal government but also severely limited its authority in order to protect the minority from the whims of the majority. Likewise, the Senate’s filibuster rule protects the minority party from the majority party steamrolling them. As with any tool, it can be misused, but it has always had the effect of amplifying the minority party’s voice.

    The author’s laundry list of programs that have been defeated through the use of the filibuster all have one thing in common—the federal government does not have the authority to implement any of them. No authority has been granted to the central government to control what workers are paid, how local policing is to be done, or to govern the electoral processes of the states. Perhaps the author was also taught that the federal government can do anything it wants. Another disservice to her, it would seem.

    Senator Sinema clearly understands what the author does not—eliminating the filibuster will come back to bite the Democrats the next time the Republicans hold the majority. Fortunately, the Senator does not share the author’s short-sighted zeal to force her agenda on the entire country.

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