Memos

Progressive Groups’ Letter to the white house on immigration

We write to you today as leading progressive organizations fighting for bold and inclusive climate, racial and immigrant justice policies to strongly urge you to include a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth, Temporary Protective Status holders, and essential workers in your upcoming Build Back Better economic recovery plan.

The Filibuster Question

Too often, the question on the filibuster gets asked in the abstract, but it’s not an abstract question. Key elements of the Biden agenda will fail if the filibuster remains in place. Moving forward, it will be important to frame the filibuster question in concrete terms, since this is how senators will face it. In addition, it is also important to challenge mythical historical narratives and underscore the limited time that a period of unified Democratic control of Washington has to implement any legislative victories.

A Brief History of the Filibuster

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This memo outlines the evolution of the filibuster from the “talking filibuster” into the supermajority threshold we know today. Nonexistent in the Framers’ vision, the talking filibuster first emerged in the middle of the 19th century, after all the Framers had passed away. Its chief innovator and practitioner was John C. Calhoun, who sought to increase the power of the minority in the Senate on behalf of the slaveowners he represented. When James Madison had designed the Senate, he had intended the minority to be guaranteed a voice in the process, but he made clear that all decision points were to remain majority-rule (except those enumerated in the Constitution for supermajority thresholds, like removal from office and Constitutional amendments). As Calhoun explicitly stated, his own goal was to expand the minority’s power beyond what Madison had intended, into an outright veto over the majority.

Historical precedent for Presiding Officer ruling on their own judgment

In the Senate, the power to issue rulings resides in the Presiding Officer, not the Parliamentarian. Indeed, it is in keeping with the tradition of the Senate for the Presiding Officer to use their judgment on questions of Senate procedure. This used to be the unquestioned norm. Even in modern times, as the Vice President began presiding less frequently and the Senate shifted to a model that was more reliant on staff, there is precedent for the Presiding Officer using their own judgment to issue rulings.

A Plan to Win The First 100 Days

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On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—colloquially known as ARRA—into law. As we mark the twelfth anniversary of ARRA, Democrats are again in the position of rescuing the country from the havoc wrought by a Republican president. The good news is that Democratic leaders seem to have learned many of the lessons of 2009. Already, the Biden-Harris administration has begun taking meaningful executive steps to address a host of issues—from immigration to climate change to national security. We applaud those and look forward to continued action.