"The time is now," says Congresswoman Demings, about the decades-old Filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate
Florida Congresswoman Val Demings didn't mince words when it came to speaking out about the Filibuster rule in the United States Senate, a rule that's worked its way to the forefront of the American conversation about democracy. For those unaware, the filibuster is a decades-old rule in the Senate that used to mean that a Senator could stop the vote on a bill by speaking for hours and hours on end. Some famous filibusters in American history include Strom Therman who spoke for hours against Civil Rights legislation back in the 1950s.
The filibuster comes down to us through the Roman tradition, as the Senate of Ancient Rome didn't have time limits on how long speakers could speak. Cato the Younger is the man credited with the invention and the invention was simple. He would just speak for hours and hours and never stop in order to prevent a vote from taking place; if he knew he would lose the vote. Rather than accepting the loss, Cato would speak until the rest of the senators in the Roman Senate got tired and finally went home for the night. It was his way of thwarting progress.
And the Senate filibuster in America works something like this today, minus all the talking. Senators don't actually have to speak for hours on end, they can just claim they're going to filibuster a bill, and, according to the Senate rules, it changes the dynamics. Whereas normally anything over 50 votes in the Senate would be enough to pass the bill, once a filibuster is raised, the Senate needs to acquire 60 votes in order to pass the bill. This is known as a "supermajority."
It's thoroughly undemocratic and it's designed specifically to halt progress and keep the government from functioning. And it's mostly been used to those ends, especially over the past two decades, where it's been used increasingly for the minority power in the Senate to obstruct the duly elected majority.
As The History Channel notes:
As partisan clashing came to a head in the 1990s and 2000s, senators turned to the filibuster more frequently in an effort to thwart the majority party. According to research by UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, there was an average of one filibuster per Congress during the 1950s. That number grew steadily since and spiked in 2007 and 2008 (the 110th Congress), when there were 52 filibusters. By the time the 111th Congress adjourned in 2010, the number of filibusters had risen to 137 for the entire two-year term.
With its increasing use has come a lot of scrutinies as well. Democrats, led by Joe Biden and progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are divided on the issue but are mostly opposed to the filibuster, seeing it as undemocratic. A few senators on the democratic side, like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Synema, consider it dangerous to eliminate the filibuster, fearing that once Republicans retain all three houses of power again (and they inevitably will), the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, they won't be able to use it to stop the Republicans dead in their tracks.
On the other hand, the Republicans, being currently out of power, see it as the only way to stop what they consider to be government overreach by the Democrats. Yes, the whole thing centers around power like this, rather than governing.
And now, a Representative from Florida, from the U.S. House where the filibuster doesn't exist, has come out in favor of abolishing the filibuster. House Representative Val Demings, who's also running to unseat Florida Senator Marco Rubio, has expressly stated her distaste for the undemocratic move, saying:
They blocked a debate because they know they’re on the wrong side. Outrageous lies are being told about the For The People Act, but the simple truth is that it would protect the right to vote, get big money out of politics, strengthen ethics laws, and protect our elections from foreign interference. The American people support these measures with massive bipartisan majorities.
Demings is an Orlando Democrat and was the former Chief of Orlando Police. Her race against Marco Rubio has been heating up ever since she announced her candidacy a few months ago, and this disagreement, over the filibuster, will be a likely point of contention in that battle.
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