It’s Time to Make the Call, Because We Cannot Filibuster Another Year

It’s been close to a year since Democrats took control of Congress and the White House. How much has happened: a much-needed COVID stimulus package in March, funding for infrastructure in November and critical appointments to the federal judiciary peppered throughout the year.

So much and yet… in the context of everything going on in the country and in the world, so little. The social services bill died on Fox News — of all places — after months of negotiation. Even more concerning, as Republicans are poised to steal more elections through partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression, Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation protecting voting rights. And this isn’t even getting into various social issues like, say, enshrining LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights or criminal justice reform into federal law.

There are a number of reasons why things stand as they do, but I can name three without stopping to think: Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and the filibuster.

One of many arcane rules in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster allows the minority party to stall most legislation unless 60 senators sign onto it. Currently, the Senate is split 50-50 between senators who are part of the Democratic caucus and Republicans; Vice President Kamala Harris casts the deciding vote. Even without the filibuster, getting a simple majority to pass legislation means that every Democrat has to be on board, which is a substantial feat in the first place. The filibuster makes this threshold even higher because it effectively requires an additional ten Republican senators to also vote in favor of what they see as “Democratic” legislation. In the current highly partisan, highly politicized environment, that’s basically impossible.

So even though Democrats have a slim majority (which isn’t nothing — those judicial appointments, for instance wouldn’t happen without it), much-needed reforms and legislation protecting basic rights simply aren’t getting passed. And, given that the Senate already gives disproportionate power to a minority of the population, effectively what the filibuster means is that Republicans can entrench their minority rule into law and still call it “democracy” because they continue to obstruct voting rights protections.

It seems that Democratic leadership has finally had enough of the stalemate. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has threatened to force a vote on the filibuster so that everything is out in the open, and he’s strategically tied it to the vote for the Freedom to Vote Act. That won’t solve all the problems: Manchin is the one who killed the Build Back Better Bill, after all, he’s strongly anti-abortion, and he won’t even support the Equality Act. More to the point, both Manchin and Sinema have said repeatedly that they refuse to eliminate the filibuster, and a majority is needed to to  change the filibuster rules. Still, being forced to justify their position, particularly when voting rights are on the line, might make them think twice.

The thing is, the last time I looked into this, Manchin and Sinema weren’t the only Democratic Senators who were ambivalent (at best) about the filibuster. While more have expressed a willingness to change the filibuster rules in recent weeks, we need to make sure that every Democratic senator votes to end the filibuster and that Republican senators know their constituents oppose their obstructionism.

So now is the time to call your senators and make sure they are in favor of filibuster reform.

Find the phone number for your Senators here.

Here’s your script:

Hi! My name is //your name//, and I’m a constituent of Senator //name of official//. The Senate filibuster has stalled critical legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, voting rights and more. These laws must pass in order to preserve our democracy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will hold a vote on filibuster reform soon. I urge the Senator to vote in favor of filibuster reform and end the filibuster. Thanks for your time.

Pro-tips for your call:

+ Practice saying the script before you call. Adjust the phrasing to what feels natural to you.

+ Make it personal. In 1 or 2 sentences, explain why this issue matters to you, personally.

+ Make sure you say you are a “constituent.” If you live in the state that the senator represents in Congress, you are their constituent, even if you can’t vote. They may ask for your zip code or the name of the county or town/city you live in.

+ Has your senator already publicly expressed their support for filibuster reform? Call them and say “thank you!”

We know there are many big issues at stake. We’ll be back with other topics, but in the meanwhile share the top issues you want folks to call Congress about in the comments. And if there are any state or local priorities you’d like to highlight, drop that in the comments as well.

Live outside the U.S.? Any issues in your country you want to call attention to and have others in your area organize around? Share that in the comments too!

Oh, and do let us know how those calls went!

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Himani is a dabbler of a writer. Her work includes reviews of media centering Asian stories, news and politics, advice and the occasional personal essay. Find her on Instagram.

Himani has written 53 articles for us.


    • Yea, I couldn’t find a more recent comprehensive news article on where the various Democratic senators stand on the filibuster than last summer when there was a lot of media hype around it. I do know (based on the Vox article I link in the post) that some of the ones on the fence like Casey in PA have indicated they are pro-reform in more recent weeks. But this is why I do just think it’s important for everyone to call, regardless of the “color” of their state or what party their senators are in, because they haven’t all been super forthcoming about where they stand, in part because they haven’t had to vote on it.

  1. I’m sure you know, but it’s not just dems Manchin & Sinema who are hesitant. Unfortunately, senator(& astronaut) Mark Kelly is undecided about it & Senator Jeanne Shaheen wants a more modest change. If anything, we need at least 55 dems senators because there will be least 3-4 who agree with Sinema & Manchin, but have been quiet about it. Sucks, that we can’t get nice things.

    • Yep! This is why I say in the post: “The last time I looked into this, Manchin and Sinema weren’t the only Democratic Senators who were ambivalent (at best) about the filibuster.”

      As I noted in response to a previous comment, this is why I think it’s important to reach out to any senator, regardless of what state they represent and what party they’re part of, because they don’t all have super clear positions on the filibuster.

      Part of the reason, though, that I call out Manchin and Sinema so explicitly in the article is that the two of them have blocked a lot of legislation that could have been passed on a simple majority in ways that other Democrats just haven’t. Manchin of course torpedoed BBB, but Sinema was the one who literally gave a “thumbs down” to the minimum wage increase that was part of (I believe) the infrastructure bill. And even, if by some miracle the filibuster rules are changed, I anticipate that Manchin and Sinema are going to continue with their antics.

  2. I couldn’t get through to either of my senators today when I tried to call their offices but I sent them messages through their websites.

    Thanks again Himani for giving me that extra push to move from thinking I should do it to actually doing it. The script was helpful too.

    • Yea, I only got through to one of my senators and of course it was the one who has already said explicitly he wants to end the filibuster… sigh… well and in any case sinema is continuing to sinema…

      But high fives for sending those messages anyways! we do what we can, right?

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