By Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (MA-5)
In 1787, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of people who asked him what kind of government the delegates had created. His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
On January 6, 2021, we almost lost it.
As I approached the Capitol one year ago today, rioters waving white supremacist flags were at the top of the Capitol steps. The smell of tear gas and an angry roar filled the air. For seven years, I had been coming to my Capitol Hill office, prepping for hearings, writing remarks, preparing for votes and meeting with constituents. But that day, my home away from home, our nation’s democratic heart, was on fire.
I spent the next six hours alone in my office checking in on colleagues and staff. I was in disbelief that this was happening in our country and praying no one would be harmed.
Even now, I can’t comprehend the violence, destruction, and mayhem of that afternoon.
But finally, in the late hours of January 6, with broken glass and blood on the floors, we certified the election of Joe Biden. A few weeks later, I attended President Biden’s inauguration on the very platform the rioters had scaled. As I listened to the familiar question of the national anthem—”does that star-spangled banner yet wave?”—it took on a new poignancy and answer: for now.
The Capitol building has been repaired. But the threats we face are as real now as they were a year ago. Despite a seditious coup attempt meant to overthrow the election, not a single piece of federal voting protection legislation has been signed into law.
In fact, Republicans continue to lead a coordinated effort to push misinformation and erode voting rights. Encouraged by Republican party leaders and lawmakers, 68 percent of Republican voters believe the November 2020 election was fraudulent—even though there is zero evidence to support this false claim. In 2021 alone, 33 voter suppression laws have been passed in 19 states across America, and more than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting have been introduced.
Democracy cannot survive voter suppression laws that substitute the will of the people for the will of a few.
In response, House Democrats passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, in March, a package of pro-democracy and anti-corruption reforms that will reduce the influence of money in politics, strengthen ethics laws, ensure accurate elections, and protect voting rights. In July, we passed H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, modernize it, and protect voters from discrimination. And in December, we passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act to strengthen America’s democratic institutions and protect them against future presidents who seek to abuse the power of their office.
But as of this writing, they are all languishing in the Senate.
The vast majority of Republicans in the House and Senate simply won’t put democracy ahead of their own desperate pursuit of power. Every day, they attack our democracy by promoting the Big Lie, refusing to participate in the January 6 investigation, and supporting voter suppression laws. They have proven time and again that their political goal is undermining our democracy instead of standing up for its survival.
So, we must go it alone. And to do that, we must abolish the filibuster.
In the past year, it has become clear that the Senate filibuster has been weaponized against voting rights. The filibuster was designed to give the minority party in the Senate a counter to simple majority rule. In practice, a Senator could speak on the floor to stall a vote and attempt to sway their colleagues to join them in opposition by prolonging debate. In the decades since, the filibuster rule has been modified four times, changing from a rare practice that required standing on the Senate floor for hours at a time into its current form: a routine, 60-vote supermajority requirement for almost every piece of legislation.
Our country’s future depends on our ability to be honest about the prospects of bipartisanship, the state of the Republican Party, and what we all witnessed on January 6. President Biden, too, has acknowledged that we can’t allow the filibuster to stand in the way of passing voting rights legislation.
We must abolish the current filibuster to protect the vote and fair elections. The future of the republic depends on it.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark is a member of the House of Representatives representing the 5th District of Massachusetts since 2013.