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January 19, 2022

“The System Itself Is Being Compromised” – In Senate Floor Speech, King Urges Filibuster Reforms to Protect Voting Rights

Watch Senator King’s floor speech here

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This evening, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to call for adjustments of Senate procedures to defend the democratic process against partisan restrictions of voting rights in 19 state legislatures nationwide. Long reluctant to change the filibuster, Senator King signaled in March 2021 that he would change his thinking if the tactic was used to “simply obstruct” rather than in good faith as a negotiating tool.

Senator King began his speech by noting his long reluctance to alter the filibuster, and how what should be a “spur to bipartisanship” and a “priceless shield” is now being used as a tool of obstruction against our democracy.

“I signed a letter a couple of years ago saying that I opposed the changing of the rules. I understand that it can and probably will boomerang that an elimination of the filibuster, what is today's annoying obstruction could be tomorrow's priceless shield. I get that. I understand that it can also be a spur to bipartisanship. We saw that in the CARES Act. The Republican leader submitted a bill, it was voted down on a filibuster initially and then ensued a series of negotiations that improved the bill and made it a bipartisan bill that passed this body unanimously,” said Senator King. “The problem is if it's being used as a spur to bipartisan discussions, that works. We saw it work with the CARES Act. But if it's used simply to stop something, in other words, if one side or the other just doesn't want to talk about the subject, what you're talking about is stone-cold obstruction.”

“And that's where we are today. Unfortunately part of this body just doesn't want to talk about the issue of voting rights. How do I know that? Because we brought up a motion to proceed three times and voted down three times, a motion to proceed to have a discussion about this issue. The only reason we're have this debate today is that the Majority Leader found a rule, that frankly I never heard of, that enabled us to bring this bill to the floor. It wasn't because the other side said, oh, let's discuss voting rights. What we have now, Mr. President, is not a filibuster. It's a second cousin once removed of a filibuster,” continued Senator King. “It doesn't require any effort. It doesn't require any speeches, it doesn't require to hold the floor. All it is is a dial-in, no work filibuster. Strom Thurmond would have loved this filibuster. He wouldn't have had to stand here for 24 hours and I venture to say if we had the rules that we have today we wouldn't have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act because it was too easy to stop anything.” 


Continuing his speech, Senator King highlighted the issue of state-level laws making voting harder millions of Americans passing on a partisan, majority basis, but requiring a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate to address the attacks on our democratic system.

“On bipartisanship, I came here to seek bipartisanship. I'm all about bipartisanship, but it strikes me as one of the deep ironies of this discussion that we are elevating bipartisanship in this body to this exalted position, while these laws are being passed entirely on a partisan basis in all of these states across the country. I guess bipartisanship is an important issue in Washington but in Atlanta and Austin, not so much. I don't get that. I think that's one of the real issues of the situation. So, Angus, if you came here opposed nine years, why are you here now? It is not – it's democracy itself. Policy can change, if they don't like the policy we have, they can kick us out and vote others in. If they change the structure of the rights of people to vote, it's not self-correcting. The system itself is being compromised.”


Senator King concluded his remarks by laying out the moderate rules change he supports, and how it would allow for Senators to debate and pass voting rights legislation.  

“We're not talking about abolishing the filibuster. We're not talking about a carve-out. We're talking about allowing this body, requiring this body to debate, to argue, to make their arguments, as long as it takes, and then at the end, when the debate is exhausted, all of us have had the opportunity to speak twice, then we have a vote, and we pass legislation on the same basis that it's always been passed, by a majority. Cloture has nothing to do with the passage of legislation. It's always been by a majority.”

Senator King is committed to increase voter trust and promote access to the ballot for all registered voters. In October 2021 he delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor urging action on voting rights, stating that we are currently “at a hinge of history” that will determine the future of the American experiment in self-government. He has recently made the argument for these bills in op-eds for the Boston Globe and TIME. In addition to the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement ActSenator King cosponsored the For the People Act and Senator Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) Right to Vote Act, which would establish a first-ever statutory right to vote in federal elections — protecting U.S. citizens from laws that make it harder to cast a ballot.   

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