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Elizabeth Warren: Eliminate Senate filibusters if a future GOP minority stops the Democratic agenda

2020 presidential hopeful says Mitch McConnell should not be allowed to block legislation

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., center, listens to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February, seated behind, from left,  Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/pool file photo)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., center, listens to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February, seated behind, from left,  Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/pool file photo)

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is ready to say that if a future Republican Senate minority were to try to thwart her agenda, it will be time to get rid of the filibuster.

“I’m not running for president just to talk about making real, structural change. I’m serious about getting it done. And part of getting it done means waking up to the reality of the United States Senate,” the Massachusetts Democratic senator is expected to say Friday.

Warren is among the presidential candidates on the schedule at the National Action Network’s national convention in New York City.

“When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear:  We’re done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats,” she will say, according to excerpts provided to Roll Call. “And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President [Barack] Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.”

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The Senate’s legislative filibuster, and its role throughout history as a tool for a minority of senators to block and delay civil rights legislation, is going to be a key theme in Warren’s Friday remarks.

And she’s planning to highlight the prolonged delay in securing passage of federal anti-lynching legislation, which the chamber’s three African-American senators led through the Senate in December and February.

The two Democrats in that group, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, are among Warren’s 2020 rivals.

“Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime. Last year,” Warren will say in her remarks. “In 2018. Do you know when the first bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced? 1918.”

“And it nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate — by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again. More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right,” Warren is expected to say.

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Warren’s more forceful public position in support of eliminating the 60-vote threshold that current Senate rules require for advancing legislation and overcoming a variety of procedural hurdles comes at the end of a week that saw the current GOP majority act to further curtail debate on nominations.

And McConnell, the majority leader, advanced those changes, cutting post-cloture debate time to no more than two hours for federal district judges and an assortment of lower-level executive branch nominees of President Donald Trump, via the “nuclear option.”

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The Kentucky Republican used a similar process to reduce the threshold for limiting debate on Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, after his predecessor, Harry Reid of Nevada, had done the same for lower-level nominees during the Obama presidency.

McConnell had much less than a 60-vote supermajority for either of Wednesday’s procedural votes.

Warren’s comments Friday will add further fuel to the theory that the ability of senators to filibuster legislation may not survive the next unified government — particularly if the Democrats are in charge.

Her speech in New York City will not be all about Senate rules, but Warren appears set to frame those precedents and procedures as one large piece of a puzzle, which also includes a constitutional amendment for voting rights.

As to the filibuster, though, Warren is planning to say that the length of time it took the Senate to act specifically against lynching is beyond unacceptable for addressing other priorities.

“We can’t sit around for 100 years while the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, and everyone else falls further and further behind. We can’t sit around for 100 years while climate change destroys our planet, while corruption pervades every nook and cranny of Washington, and while too much of a child’s fate in life still rests on the color of their skin,” Warren is expected to tell the audience.

“Enough with that.  When we win the election, we will make the change that we need in this country.”

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