We Asked Kyrsten Sinema's Office for One (1) Example Where the Filibuster Created Bipartisan Comity

·4-min read
Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images

It cannot be said that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are responsible for placing American democracy on the edge of a cliff. This is a development decades in the making, the result of a ceaselessly radicalising Republican Party and a Democratic opposition that has often lacked the courage and conviction to stop the slide. But now that we have truly arrived, with Republican state legislatures going all out to suppress the vote—and, crucially, to make it easier to overturn future election results they do not like—based on an insane lie for which they have not provided a shred of evidence, and with Republicans at the federal level blocking an investigation into an attempted insurrection following the last election result they did not like, Manchin and Sinema are playing a crucial role. They could work with the rest of the Democratic congressional caucus to arrest this slide at long last. Instead, they're sidestepping.

Last week, we asked Senator Manchin's office whether he still supported the kind of filibuster reforms he did back in 2011, when he declared that "West Virginians deserve a government that works for them, and they are understandably frustrated with the way things get done—or don’t—in Washington." We didn't get a response, but that was somehow better than what Senator Sinema served up on Wednesday. In a press availability alongside Republican Senator John Cornyn, with whom Sinema has embarked on a road trip in order to demonstrate the glories of bipartisan comity, the Arizona Democrat offered a defense of the filibuster that amounted to little more than make-believe. The history and real-world effects of the Senate mechanism that Sinema offered here simply have no connection to reality.

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Jonathan Chait at New York magazine has dealt with the various scraps of historical nonsense here. The filibuster was not created by design, it was not created by the Founders, they rejected a supermajority procedure for passing the vast majority of bills in the Senate, it was not used until 1837, and its most prominent use throughout the 20th century was to block civil-rights legislation.

But on that last point, there are also the just entirely made-up effects of this procedural device Sinema presented here. The senator claimed the filibuster was "created"—again, a tenuous view of history—to "create comity and encourage senators to find bipartisanship and work together." The obvious counterpoint to this is that we've had the filibuster over the last, say, decade, and there has been very little comity and bipartisanship in that time. In fact, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has declared it his top priority under the last two Democratic presidents to block their agenda. Passing laws to grapple with the major issues of our time? No. Obstruction. Still, Esquire reached out to a representative for Senator Sinema to ask for an example of a bill where the filibuster created comity and encouraged senators to find bipartisanship and work together. We'll update this if we get a response.

But even if they do dig one up, we all know what's going on in the here and now. Sinema was standing next to Texas Senator John Cornyn for this presser, a man who conveniently doubles as a walking counterpoint to the assemblage of words she offered up. When the president's superfans stormed the Capitol to try to prevent the Legislative Branch from confirming he would soon leave power—an assault on the very foundations of American democracy—Cornyn soon hipped to the line that rather than impeach the outgoing president for his crimes against the republic, Congress should form a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to investigate the events of January 6. When it came time to create such a commission at the end of last month, however—and its final design was highly favorable to Republicans considering how many of them were implicated in the nonsense leading up to the Capitol riots—Cornyn and his colleagues blocked it.

These are the people with whom Sinema is going to find compromise on voting-rights legislation? They very likely won't even cooperate on an infrastructure bill, unless you think McConnell's obstruction pledge has an exemption for...a massive public-investment initiative that could define Biden's presidency. Get fucking real. Republicans already used gamesmanship to cover up just how much of a lowball their opening counteroffer on infrastructure was. Now they've got Senator Shelley Moore Capito at the White House conducting negotiations with the Biden folks as if when the time comes, no matter how big or small the bill is, essentially the entire Senate Republican caucus won't vote against it. You probably won't even get Mitt Romney on this one. You certainly will not get 10 Republican votes, for this or anything else. The only question that truly remains is whether Sinema really believes this shit.

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