Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Friday she wants to jettison the Senate filibuster, becoming the first senator running for president to support abandoning the long-standing tradition and potentially putting pressure on other candidates to follow.
Warren, who is speaking at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network forum in New York this morning, laid out some conditions: She’d end the practice if Democrats retake the White House and Senate Republicans block the new president’s agenda.
“If Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster,” Warren said, according to prepared remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has engaged in a back-and-forth with Senate Democrats over the filibuster, as each side has chipped away at the practice to advance its agenda. Democrats, especially liberal activists, have become increasingly angry at what they see as McConnell’s practice of dispensing with rules in order to push through GOP objectives, especially the confirmation of conservative judges.
There’s been some support in both parties to end the filibuster, which creates a 60-vote threshold in the Senate to pass most legislation. Many on the left believe it would be the major impediment to passing sweeping legislation like the Green New Deal or Medicare-for-all.
President Trump has also pushed to end the filibuster, a practice that began in the 19th century and is used by the minority party to exert influence in the chamber.
By adding her voice to the effort, Warren is putting down a marker and bolstering what could become a new litmus test for the Democratic presidential field. Most of the others in the field have said they’re open to ending the filibuster. But the only other candidate in the Democratic field to explicitly support ending it is Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who served in the House but never in the Senate.
Six of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are sitting U.S. senators. Those who serve in the upper chamber often value its traditions, especially those who have served in the minority.
But rights for the minority party in the Senate have been eroding in recent years. This week, McConnell led an effort to reduce the number of hours required for floor debate to confirm lower-level judicial nominees, ending a maneuver Democrats were using to slow Trump’s appointments. That prompted angry exchanges on the Senate floor.
McConnell ended the filibuster on Supreme Court judicial nominations in 2017, paving the way for Neil M. Gorsuch, and then Brett M. Kavanaugh, to be confirmed to the high court. When Democrats controlled the chamber, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in 2013 ended the filibuster on non-Supreme Court nominees.
Warren said the filibuster had been an impediment to progress on landmark civil rights legislation, noting that it was used by segregationists to block anti-lynching legislation and other laws meant to end racist practices.
“For generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice,” said Warren. “And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.”
Warren’s policy-heavy agenda includes a suite of proposals, including major federal investments in child care and housing, that could require congressional approval. Her aides have said that her support for ending the filibuster shows she appreciates the hurdles her ideas would face and that she’s as willing to make structural change to government as she is to various sectors of the economy.
Warren’s position, at least for now, sets her apart from her most obvious ideological rival in the race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“I’m not crazy about getting rid of the filibuster,” Sanders said on CBS last month. “The real issue is that you have in Washington a system which is dominated in Washington by wealthy campaign contributors.”
Others in the field have also signaled a reluctance to end the filibuster.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gllibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) signed a letter to preserve the legislative filibuster in April 2017 as McConnell moved to end the judicial filibuster that year. Warren did not.