WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn delivered the following floor remarks today on the need to reform the Senate filibuster for voting rights and civil rights legislation:
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As Prepared for Delivery
“Last March, as the tragic failure of the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was becoming apparent, the House Democratic Caucus held a conference call to discuss the crisis. Recalling the lessons of history like the aftermaths of World War I and the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression and World II, that it is usually ‘the least of these’ among us that are the hardest hit during the crises, and the last to recover after these crises are over – if they are able to recover at all; I expressed to the Caucus that the legislation before us offered ‘a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.’ I was referring then, as I often do, to the vision expressed in our Pledge of Allegiance to our nation’s flag of ‘liberty and justice for all.’
“Shortly after the media reported those comments, Senator McConnell, then the Majority Leader, derided them on the Senate floor, referring to me by position he declared, ‘this is not a political opportunity, it is a national emergency.’
“I wholeheartedly agree with the now Minority Leader of the Senate that the coronavirus pandemic was and remains a national emergency. But because the previous Administration and Senate Republicans failed to address it with the appropriate urgency, and a vision of ‘liberty and justice for all;’ last November the American people, through the political process, entrusted Democrats with an opportunity to build back with a better, and more equitable, vision for the future of our great country.
“The American Rescue Plan has begun that process and it is enjoying widespread, bipartisan support across the entire spectrum of the country. And it did not get a single Republican vote in the House or Senate. Because of the use of the budget process commonly called Reconciliation, Republicans were not able to block by filibuster the American Rescue Plan. And that is proving to be a good thing for the country.
“But the Senate Minority Leader and several of his colleagues seem to be hellbent on using archaic Senate procedural rules to allow the minority in the Senate to block any legislation designed to protect the voting and civil rights of our country’s minority citizens as we continue our pursuit toward the fulfillment of our vision of ‘liberty and justice for all.’
“We have been here before. During the 1940s and 50s, the Senate filibuster was used to kill civil rights legislation and protect Jim Crow laws. Today, Senate Republican leaders are employing the same tactic to obstruct voting rights and civil rights legislation. Their efforts are designed to gain power for their party by suppressing political participation by minorities. The Minority Leader has threatened that if Senate Democrats modify the filibuster rules to do to him as he did to President Obama, he will resort to ‘scorched earth’ tactics.
“This threat of ‘scorched earth’ tactics by the Senate Minority Leader in defiance of American democracy is reminiscent of ‘Mississippi Burning’—which was highlighted by the lynching of three civil rights workers who were registering Black voters in Mississippi in June 1964.
“They were murdered by the KKK with the cooperation of law enforcement officials to keep them from assisting minority citizens who simply wanted to vote. It was 44 days before their bodies were located and four decades before anyone faced legal consequences for their deaths.
“Today, Republicans are using their ‘big lie’ about the 2020 elections as a pretext to advance a litany of minority voter suppression laws. They know that our vision of liberty and justice for all enjoys majority support among voters, so they seek to suppress enough votes so that their oppressive policies and bankrupt ideas can prevail. The Minority Leader wants to allow a minority of his minority to block measures that would prevent a return to bygone days.
“To confront this threat, the Senate must eliminate the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster on voting rights and civil rights legislation. Just as Mississippi Burning was met with the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, the threat of ‘scorched earth’ must be met with the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.
“I didn’t march in the streets and spend nights in jail as a young man to find myself fighting the same battles generations later. But it appears Mr. McConnell and his Republican colleagues are preparing to retread old ground. And, I am prepared to stand my ground.
“To the now Minority Leader of the Senate, I say, ‘this is not a political opportunity, it is a national emergency.’ Since this country’s inception, equal rights for people of color have been restricted by those in power who seek to hold on to power by using their power to deny the greatness of this country to those who do not look like them.
“Extending debate on legislative issues is one thing, but when it comes to rights rooted in the Constitution, the filibuster has no place.”