Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on June 2 defended the Senate filibuster as an essential tool and confirmed that she won’t vote to abolish it.
The filibuster “is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies,” Sinema told reporters in Arizona after touring the border with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Some leftist activists and media members have pressured Sinema and other Democrats to end the filibuster, asserting that President Joe Biden can’t accomplish his agenda if Republicans keep blocking many of his legislative priorities.
“To those who say that we must make a choice between the filibuster and ‘X,’ I say this is a false choice,” Sinema told reporters. “The reality is that when you have a system that is not working effectively … the way to fix that is to fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior.”
The filibuster is a strategy that allows a senator or senators to block or delay action on legislation or other measures through debate or other procedural maneuvers. The chamber can overcome a filibuster if it invokes cloture—a vote by 60 members of the Senate to place a 30-hour time limit on consideration of the issue.
Currently, the Senate has 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats or nominal independents who regularly vote with Democrats. Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreaking votes in her role as president of the Senate.
Some on the left want Democrats to abolish the filibuster so Biden’s priorities can be achieved even without GOP support.
Fix Our Senate, a group that pushes for the elimination of the filibuster, said Sinema “is simply wrong about the history of the filibuster.”
“Its current abuse by Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into a cesspool of partisanship, gridlock, and dysfunction,” the group said, referring to the Senate’s top Republican.
Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block the bill that would have created a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol building. Cornyn, who spoke with reporters alongside Sinema, voted against creating the commission. Sinema missed the vote, citing a family matter.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told colleagues last week that he plans to bring a host of bills to the floor when the Senate reconvenes later this month, including S.1, which would dramatically alter how elections are handled.
Biden appeared to focus on Sinema and fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in a speech on June 2, noting that some are questioning why he doesn’t get more done as president.
“Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” Biden said.
While Sinema and Manchin are both balking at ending the filibuster, they usually vote in support of the president’s positions.
“He was not giving a specific commentary on a policy. He was conveying, again, that sometimes that’s the summary—shorthand version that he sees on cable news at times. Again, it’s not always the forum that’s easy to provide guidance on how a bill becomes a law,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“His view on the filibuster continues to be that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to make voting easier, to move forward on progress for the American people. That position hasn’t changed. And he was not intending to convey something different.”