NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, May 28th, 2021

Democracy now: Washingtonians want the filibuster abolished in the U.S. Senate

Min­utes ago, Repub­li­cans in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate blocked con­sid­er­a­tion of a bipar­ti­san bill to cre­ate a bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion to inves­ti­gate the Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021 attack on the Unit­ed States Capi­tol. It’s the first fil­i­buster this Con­gress, and like­ly the first of many fil­i­busters this year by Mitch McConnell and his caucus.

As Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate read­ers are like­ly aware, in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate, fil­i­buster has become a catch-all term that means “any attempt to block or delay Sen­ate action on a bill or oth­er mat­ter by debat­ing it at length, by offer­ing numer­ous pro­ce­dur­al motions, or by any oth­er delay­ing or obstruc­tive actions.” That def­i­n­i­tion is from the Sen­ate’s own glos­sary, which is avail­able here.

In the House, obstruc­tive maneu­vers can usu­al­ly be over­come by the major­i­ty par­ty. A major­i­ty of greater than fifty per­cent is suf­fi­cient to pass a bill. That’s not the case in the Sen­ate, where the few con­trol the out­come instead of the many. The Sen­ate requires a six­ty vote thresh­old to be met to move legislation.

That thresh­old was­n’t met when the Sen­ate vot­ed min­utes ago on H.R. 3233, the Jan­u­ary 6th Com­mis­sion Act, so the bill is stuck indef­i­nite­ly. Even though a major­i­ty of sen­a­tors (includ­ing some Repub­li­cans!) were in favor of the bill, it was stopped in its tracks by a minor­i­ty of sen­a­tors from just one party.

The fil­i­buster is a crea­ture of Sen­ate rules, cus­tom, and tra­di­tion. The Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion does­n’t pro­vide for a fil­i­buster in the Sen­ate, and in fact, the Framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion are on record as say­ing that Con­gress was designed to oper­ate on the basis of major­i­ty rule. (See The Fed­er­al­ist No. 22 and 58.)

Ear­li­er this week, through our poll­ster, we asked Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to weigh in on the fil­i­buster. The results came back yes­ter­day, and now seems like the per­fect time to share them. Thanks to our sur­vey, we can say that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are also on record as want­i­ng the Unit­ed States Sen­ate fil­i­buster abolished.

56% of respon­dents to our poll said that they sup­port get­ting rid of the Sen­ate fil­i­buster, while 37% are opposed. 7% said they were not sure.

Although this poll was only of like­ly vot­ers from a sin­gle state (Wash­ing­ton), our find­ing is in sync with pre­vi­ous nation­al polling that sug­gests Amer­i­cans don’t con­sid­er the fil­i­buster a beloved insti­tu­tion worth sav­ing, like this one.

Here’s the full text of the ques­tion we asked, and the responses:

QUESTION: The Unit­ed States Sen­ate cur­rent­ly oper­ates under pro­ce­dures com­mon­ly known as the fil­i­buster which allow as few as forty-one sen­a­tors out of one hun­dred to block the con­sid­er­a­tion of leg­is­la­tion like increas­ing the min­i­mum wage to fif­teen dol­lars an hour or expand­ing vot­ing rights through­out the entire coun­try. Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose or strong­ly oppose get­ting rid of the fil­i­buster to allow a sim­ple fifty per­cent major­i­ty of Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors to bring leg­is­la­tion to the Sen­ate floor for debate and pos­si­ble adoption?


  • Sup­port abol­ish­ing the fil­i­buster: 56% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 44%
    • Some­what sup­port: 12%
  • Oppose abol­ish­ing the fil­i­buster: 37% 
    • Some­what oppose: 7%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 30%
  • Not sure: 7%

Notice that the per­cent­age that strong­ly sup­ports abol­ish­ing the fil­i­buster is greater than the entire per­cent­age of respon­dents who are opposed.

This find­ing sug­gests that there is deep enthu­si­asm for mak­ing the Unit­ed States Sen­ate a more respon­sive, demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion in our state.

Our sur­vey of 992 like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Tues­day, May 25th through Wednes­day, May 26th, 2021.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (50%) and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respon­dents (50%).

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.1% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

The Pacif­ic North­west is for­tu­nate to have a strong cham­pi­on for abol­ish­ing the fil­i­buster in Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

Sen­a­tor Merkley has been work­ing on this just cause for over a decade, and we thank him for his tire­less efforts. We urge Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, and Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden to join Sen­a­tor Merkley in speak­ing out fre­quent­ly and emphat­i­cal­ly in sup­port of end­ing the filibuster.

Our coun­try’s future is on a knife’s edge. If we don’t scrap the fil­i­buster, our democ­ra­cy may not sur­vive into the late 2020s and 2030s. That’s no exag­ger­a­tion. I wish I could say it was, but it’s not. We are on the precipice of author­i­tar­i­an­ism. The fil­i­buster stands in the way of sore­ly need­ed leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect the right to vote in this coun­try, and ensure elec­tions are free and fair.

If a bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion can’t sur­vive a fil­i­buster, then no leg­is­la­tion of con­se­quence can. What we’re see­ing today is a pre­view of what we’ll be see­ing reg­u­lar­ly through the end of this Con­gress if the fil­i­buster remains in place.

The clock is tick­ing, and the coun­try’s sur­vival is on the line. End the filibuster!

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