Until last week, the most depressing filibuster in American history was South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond rambling for 24 hours and 18 minutes in hopes of killing a civil rights bill.

He took just one bathroom break in all that time, yielding the floor for a few minutes so another senator could make an entry in the Congressional Record.

Thurmond’s spectacle of self-indulgence happened in 1957. He was a Democrat then, and Southern Democrats fought to maintain the bigoted system that denied most Black people the right to vote.

The civil rights bill passed 60-15 after Thurmond finally stopped talking. It was weaker than the version Republican President Dwight Eisenhower wanted, but the legislation heightened federal enforcement powers on voting rights.

Racial prejudice flowed openly in 1957. It was the year nine Black kids desegregated all-white Little Rock Central High School as the governor of Arkansas called in the National Guard to stop them.

In this poisonous climate, a bipartisan bloc of U.S. senators rejected Thurmond’s meanderings and took a small step toward decency.

The opposite occurred last week. Republican senators used the filibuster rule to block a bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

It was another maneuver to protect former President Donald Trump, who egged on the rioters with his false claims that voter fraud robbed him of a second term.

Legislation approved by the House of Representatives would have established a commission of five Democrats and five Republicans to lead the investigation of the riot. A similar approach was taken in investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania.

The House proposal had majority support in the Senate — 54 in favor and 35 against. But under a Senate rule, that wasn’t good enough to stave off a bill-killing filibuster.

Sixty votes in the 100-member Senate were required to advance the bill and bring debate to a close.

The Senate is evenly divided between the two parties, meaning 10 Republicans would have had to vote with the Democrats to authorize the bipartisan investigation.

Only six Republicans supported formation of the commission. Thirty-five opposed it, and nine other Republicans didn’t vote at all.

The Senate’s system does nothing to inspire confidence in government.

A minority of senators can bury details on an attack on the seat of government.

It can downplay crimes that were intended to keep President Joe Biden’s victory from being certified.

The Republicans who stifled the investigation didn’t want the findings to coincide with next year’s midterm election.

“Electoral fears mattered more than truth and transparency,” said Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

To be sure, other investigations can proceed. They will face accusations of partisanship, no matter how fair-minded they are.

It would be much more difficult to attack the work of a panel made up of Republicans and Democrats.

Knowing this, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky marshaled his members to stamp out the investigation the public would trust most.

The six Republicans who broke ranks might be punished by their leader. Technically, that’s McConnell. Realistically, it’s Trump. He still sets the tone for the Republican Party.

Trump inspired an insurrection. Yet many of the senators and representatives endangered in the Capitol riot still protect him by stifling an investigation.

More political fallout is coming, as was the case in Thurmond’s era. He bolted from the Democratic Party to become a Republican in 1964, the year of a more sweeping civil rights bill than the one he tried to talk to death.

Some say Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster. Others favor the late Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon. Morse in 1953 talked for 22 hours and 26 minutes — less than Thurmond, but Morse supposedly never visited the men’s room.

What’s clearer is Thurmond remained the strongest racist in the Senate — a career politician who lived on the wrong side of history.

Most Senate Republicans run the same risk as they try to sweep away the reality of the Jan. 6 riot.

McConnell is safe politically. He won reelection to his seventh term in November.

Thurmond served even longer, winning election nine times in a Senate career that spanned 48 years.

After all that, his enduring memory is a daylong filibuster to keep the country separate and unequal.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(25) comments

Henry R.

This is sad, democracy in The United States is going down the tubes.

Alexander Brown

Expecting those involved in criminal behavior to be their own judge and jury is absurd.

Unless it's Congress. Where it's a Kangaroo Court re: Jan 6th.

Atty General Merrick Garland has the real job, has called it a top priority. Generates no headlines. Yet.

Jarratt Applewhite

Fine column, Milan. Thanks

Khal Spencer

I am opposed to eliminating the filibuster but I do think the Dems should change the rules and impose a "talking filibuster" like in the old days. You want to filibuster? Fine, you gotta hold the floor and talk and perhaps no bathroom breaks allowed. I'd love to see Mitch McConnell in Pampers.

As far as a commission? I imagine there would be a lot of 5:5 deadlocks. Still, this should have been aired out in the halls of Congress as well as by the Justice Dept. (but I suspect immunity would have to be granted for testimony before Congress) but if I were Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, I would make this an issue in 2022. Do we want government or chaos?

Jarratt Applewhite

Generally agree. Some say the filibuster always had racist roots; others that this mechanism was advanced to protect minority opinions -- a central feature of our system designed to avoid mob rule when one faction had a majority.

There are many ways to reforming the filibuster without eliminating it. The 'talking' version is one. Others focus on the censure regs. Suppose it took 60 votes to invoke censure initially, but every few days the threshold would decline. There are many ways to preserve minority views w/o succumbing to this terrifying gridlock.

Joseph Tafoya

This typical of democrats and it's right out of their playbook. When they cannot move their agenda under the rules long established by both sides. They want to change the rules to favor their position without considering that at some point in time the change will work to their disadvantage. Now to get to the real point of this commission. They need a dog and pony show for the 2022 mid-term elections. They need a boogieman to present to the electorate at large with the help of their lapdog media. Now they still have a boogieman, but no dog or no pony for their show. Here is a novel idea. How about just sticking to the issues and stop with the power plays.

Richard Reinders

The issues are the border is over run and there is out of control spending and none of it has to do with the last President.

Russell Scanlon

No—the issue is the Jan 6 insurrection by MAGA voters. That is the subject of the column.

Jarratt Applewhite

In this duopoly there's plenty of blame to accord to both factions. The Ds exempted most judicial confirmations; the R's extended it to the Supremes. It's a shame that this tool designed to prevent a simple majority from running roughshod has become yet another way to leverage fleeting changes in partisan power. Ya basta!

Russell Scanlon

No mention of the reason for all of this—the MAGA insurrection on Jan 6th. Typical.

joe martinez

Chuckle...Another filibuster, another stain. Calling it a filibuster adds to the negativity and provides an op for piety. Fact is, senate rules require 60 votes to pass a bill that doesn't involve finances...that simple. Dems, liberals, all think alike so all the Dems voted for a bill that would continue the opportunity for political advantage. The news media, 90% liberal, is outraged because of a lost opportunity for more negativity pasted on Republicans. We know what happened on 6 Jan and Pelosi will keep on getting headlines with her phony morality. Columnists and Trump-haters will still get their jollies so why get our undies in a twist? "Seldom do we read in these comments what folks are FOR. It's always about how bad we Rs are. You folks own the state with every statewide office, the legislature, the northern counties and we still have anxiety over a lone congresswoman from the southern district. Greed?

Khal Spencer

Its a Senate rule, not anything in the Constitution. Used to be that you needed 67 votes to end a filibuster. Now its sixty and all you have to do is say "filibuster" rather than do a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington act. We shall see where this goes.

The Filibuster should be used sparingly. So should the nuclear option. But we live in interesting times.

B. Rosen

I used to have some modicum of respect for some republicans, even if admittedly I never have voted for any of them. Now the GOP has become the post democracy, authoritarian party with a base obsessed with their cult of personality to a pathological liar and con man. They have lost all attachment to reality and all loyalty to our constitution, they need to be kept out of power at all cost.

rodney carswell

[thumbup]

Russell Scanlon

The GOP is a burning clown car, filled to capacity, driving headlong into a burning building—and as in Thurmond’s case—hopelessly into the wrong side of history. The sooner this incarnation of the Republican perishes, the better for all of us.

B. Rosen

[thumbup]

Lee DiFiore

"Driving headlong into a burning building". We do know how that burning building got there in the first place don't we?

Russell Scanlon

Why don’t you enlighten us all about that?

Khal Spencer

Strom Thurmond. That reminds me. Back in the 1980's, old Strom was running for re-election. He was a strong pro-gun Senator and I got a call from an NRA operative (I was an NRA member back then) asking me to donate to his re-election campaign.

I somewhat crankily told the NRA operative on the other end of the phone line that I would not give a red cent to that racist $#@! even if he was a gun rights guy. The operative got snotty with me and I told him to stick it in a place where the sun never shines and I hung up. When my NRA renewal came up, I was still annoyed and threw it in the trash.

There are some depths even I won't sink to.

John Cook

[thumbup]

John Cook

You are a bit conservative for me, Khal. But you are never sinking into any depths.

Khal Spencer

[beam]

Dan Three

ere's the Trump quote from that day "I know that everyone here will soon be marching to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard." Perhaps Bernie Sanders is responsible for the fact that one of his followers shot Congressman Steve Scalise. Where were you when Obama said "If they bring a knife to the fight we bring a gun." What fight was Mr. Obama talking about at that Philadelphia fundraiser? Of course we have the second coming of Mahatma Gandhi Maxine Waters who said "Lets stay on the street" and "get more confrontational." Please stop the garbage, there has already been a biased investigation by the Capitol Police and they won't even release the name the cop that shot the unarmed Trump supporter Ashley Babbit. The Republicans know they can't get a fair investigation from anyone in Washington or the press. If you want proof of that statement just read your column.

Dan Three

Here's the Trump quote from that day "I know that everyone here will soon be marching to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard." Perhaps Bernie Sanders is responsible for the fact that one of his followers shot Congressman Steve Scalise. Where were you when Obama said "If they bring a knife to the fight we bring a gun." What fight was Mr. Obama talking about at that Philadelphia fundraiser? Of course we have the second coming of Mahatma Gandhi Maxine Waters who said "Lets stay on the street" and "get more confrontational." Please stop the garbage, there has already been a biased investigation by the Capitol Police and they won't even release the name the cop that shot the unarmed Trump supporter Ashley Babbit. The Republicans know they can't get a fair investigation from anyone in Washington or the press. If you want proof of that statement just read your column.

Russell Scanlon

Some things were talked about. Other things were actually done—probably with an assist from a handful of GOP MAGA acolytes. This isn’t even false equivalency. This is clinging to the edge of a cliff built from lies about the election.

Welcome to the discussion.

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