McConnell defends remarks on racial history of Senate filibuster

The Kentucky Republicans said the filibuster is not racist relic, however historians dispute that.

Image: U.S. Senate Minority Leader McConnell walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the Kentucky Republican’s speech on Tuesday in which the lawmaker said the Senate filibuster has no racial history, despite historians noting it was associated with segregationists for over a century.

McConnell argued in a speech early Tuesday on the Senate floor that Democrats are exploiting race in their attempts to overhaul, or outright abolish, the filibuster.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in an interview with Axios that the legislative filibuster requiring 60 votes in the Senate to end debate on a bill “has deep roots in racism.” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., went further and said in a tweet last week it “was created so that slave owners could hold power over our government.” Other Democrats also made similar charges.

“These talking points are an effort to use the terrible history of racism to justify a partisan power grab in the present,” McConnell said in his speech. McConnell, noting the times it has been used by Democrats, asked in his speech if it “magically became an offensive relic the instant Democrats came to have a majority?”

Doug Andres, a spokesperson for McConnell, said in a tweet the lawmaker was referring to the origins of the Senate filibuster when he said there is no debate among historians about the racial history.

Historians and scholars have noted that the filibuster has a quirky origin story unattached from racism. According to Sarah Binder, a Brookings Institution fellow and political science professor at George Washington University, it emerged by accident.

However, it later became associated with segregationists who opposed civil rights for African Americans and other minorities. For instance, as a senator, Vice President John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery, used the filibuster as a tool to delay legislative action,The Washington Post noted.

“The histories of the filibuster, civil and voting rights, and race in America are intertwined,” Steven S. Smith, a political scientist and Senate expert at Washington University in St. Louis, told PolitiFact.

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