Jentleson began his career as a policy researcher and speechwriter for the John Kerry 2004 presidential campaign. He then served as Manager of Congressional Affairs at the Center for American Progress, speechwriter for the 2008 presidential campaign of John Edwards. Jentleson served as deputy chief of staff for United States Senator Harry Reid from 2011 to 2016.
Jentleson is a columnist for GQ, Jentleson has also contributed commentary to The New York Times, Politico magazine, and The Washington Post. His book, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy, provides an extensive critique of the United States Senate, particularly the rise of the filibuster during the 19th century and 20th century to slow the advancement of civil rights legislation for American minorities, particularly African Americans.
Sometimes, I come across a book that is just what I wanted, even though I didn't know it existed. This book popped up in a google search for another book, but the title caught my eye! I'm reading now, but it already has taught me so much about the "WHY's" that you and I have been having...
Why can't the Senate not get important actions through in a timely fashion?
Why can Mitch McConnell continue to have power even though he is now the minority leader?
Why are voting rights, so important to all of us, so hard to get passed?
Why is the opposing party in minority so able to gain action?
If you are upset that President Biden can't get things through as fast as they are needed, then this book may be of help to you and even assist in getting things done. I was shocked when I started to read, especially, Chapter 2...
Rise of the Filibuster
BIRTH OF A NOTION WHEN I THINK ABOUT my time in the Senate, I see a broken man. I was standing a few dozen steps from the Senate floor, in the inner office of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.
Rest in Peace...
It was an April day, and gray light streamed in through the high, west-facing windows of the Capitol building. Two high-backed, engraved wooden chairs with crimson cushions sat facing each other in front of a dark green marble fireplace, below a gilded Rococo mirror. A grand suite first commandeered for the leader’s use by Lyndon Johnson and nicknamed the Taj Mahal, it had brass chandeliers hanging from fifteen-foot vaulted ceilings, which were emblazoned with the state seal of Nevada, Reid’s home state. “Battle Born” was the state motto, and it was an apt description of Reid, a former boxer raised in a house made of railway ties in the tiny mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, who had fought his way to becoming one of the most powerful leaders in Washington, DC.
But that day, he and the dozen or so members of his staff who stood around the chairs were defeated, and his grand office felt small. Reid, my boss, sat in one of the high-backed chairs. In the other sat a middle-aged man with broad shoulders and a kind, open face. His name was Neil Heslin. He was there because four months earlier, on December 14, 2012, his six-year-old son, Jesse, had been shot dead in his first-grade classroom. The Christmas tree he and Jesse had planned to decorate still stood bare in his living room, back home in Newtown, Connecticut. It would be four years before Neil would take it down. A registered Republican, Neil had come to Washington with other parents of children who had been murdered that day to try to persuade senators to vote for the most rudimentary restrictions on guns. In a functioning system, they would have succeeded. They convinced fifty-five senators from every region of the country to support a bill to enact universal background checks on gun purchases, a policy supported by nine in ten Americans, according to a Quinnipiac poll at the time. The bill was written and introduced by two senators who could not have been more different, but had found agreement on this issue: Joe Manchin, a rough-edged, populist Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a preppy, country-club Republican from Pennsylvania. Their bill had secured the support of left-leaning gun control groups like the Brady Campaign, and of right-leaning gun rights groups like the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
But the support of a broad, bipartisan majority of senators, of advocacy groups from across the political spectrum, and of an overwhelming share of the American public was not enough. Opponents of the background-checks bill invoked a twentieth-century rule that, ironically, was invented to curtail obstruction by ending the kind of marathon filibusters that many people picture when they think of the Senate. But over the years innovative obstructionists had repurposed the rule into a new kind of filibuster that was quieter, and far more lethal, than the old kind. \
Using this repurposed rule, the threshold for the background-checks bill to pass had been quietly raised from a simple majority to sixty votes, without a single senator having to say a word. And there was nothing the bill’s supporters could do about it. There was no great debate, no one standing on the floor for hours, just quiet failure in an empty chamber. Fifty-five senators supported the bill, forty-five opposed it, and the bill was defeated. The forty-five senators who defeated the bill represented just 38 percent of the American people.
When the vote was called, it had not mattered that the opponents of the bill lost the debate in the court of public opinion by a landslide, because at no point in the supposedly democratic process had it been necessary for the bill’s opponents to persuade the American people of the merits of their position. All they needed to do was hold together a minority of senators, most of whom would not face voters at the polls for several years, long after the sitting president and many of their colleagues in the House of Representatives had come and gone, and by which point this bill would be a distant memory. There was very little pressure on the opponents of the bill to cross party lines because they were accountable almost exclusively to people who looked and thought like they did: white conservatives. \
As recently as a few years prior, it had been common for Republican senators to represent states Democratic presidents won, and vice versa, creating pressure on them to cross the aisle on key issues. But now, for the first time in American history, the Senate, like the rest of the country, had been almost completely sorted, so that most Republican senators represented red states and Democratic senators blue states. Moreover, the bill’s opponents were protected by the National Rifle Association, which launched a major lobbying campaign against the bill, fueled by anonymous donations whose origins the American people and campaign finance watchdogs can only guess at.
In this system that rewarded party discipline and loyalty, insulated by millions of dollars in support from special-interest groups, senators were unlikely to pay any political price for opposing a bill supported by 90 percent of Americans. Sure, the conversations with tearful parents begging senators to think of their slain children may have been difficult to endure. But all a senator had to do was make it through the fifteen minutes or so they reserved on their schedule for them. When the time was up, an aide would interrupt to tell the parents that they were sorry, but the senator really had to go, and it was off to fundraisers and pep rallies with like-minded people who would lavish them with praise and campaign contributions for standing firm against common sense and basic human decency.
The vote deciding the bill’s fate had taken place shortly before we found ourselves in Reid’s office, standing around in silence. As reporters filed their stories in the press gallery one floor above, we waited for Neil to speak. “Well …,” he said, to break the silence. He bowed his head and trailed off. His broad shoulders shrugged, and it seemed like he was struggling to hold back tears. He didn’t need to say anything, because there was nothing more to say. His only son was dead and his government had failed to give a damn.
- The shootings continued. On June 12, 2016, a shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, would briefly become the deadliest mass shooting in America, as a gunman shot forty-nine people dead.
- On October 1, 2017, a gunman fired into a crowd at a music festival in Las Vegas, killing fifty-eight concertgoers.
- On February 14, 2018, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed seventeen students and staff.
- Overall, between the Newtown massacre and July 2020, more than twenty-six hundred people would be killed in mass shootings in America.
In the wake of a massacre of first-graders, the American people had asked their government to pass specific, moderate policies to make future massacres less likely. But because the Senate lies at the heart of our legislative process, a minority of senators, who represented an even smaller minority of the population, were able to impose their will not just on the Senate itself, but on the entire country, and block those commonsense solutions.
As young people continue to be killed in mass shootings, the official stance of the entire United States government is indifference because a minority in one chamber of one of the three branches believes that easy access to assault rifles is a higher priority than protecting children’s lives. Neil and the other parents wanted to know how this could happen. We explained Senate procedure and political realities, but their eyes asked deeper questions: How did it get to be this way? How was this possible in a democracy? How could the government so callously disregard such a reasonable call to action?
The answers lie in the transformation from the Senate envisioned by the Framers to the modern Senate we know today.
MINORITY RULE HAS BECOME such a pervasive and often unquestioned part of American political life that it’s worth pointing out that yes, America is a democracy. To be sure, it’s a flawed one that often fails to live up to its grand claims to be a nation of, by, and for all people. But the most fundamental characteristic of democracy—the idea that majority rule is the fairest way to decide the outcome of elections and determine which bills become law—is baked into our founding ideas and texts.
Yet the emphasis we now place on the rights of minority factions has become so exaggerated that it’s not unusual to hear prominent voices make claims such as, “We live in a republic, which means 51 percent of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49 percent.”
That comment came from a United States congressman, Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Republican who entered because he won his 2018 election by a vote of 53 to 46 percent. But if the vote had been 51 to 49, or even if Crenshaw had received a single, solitary vote more than his opponent out of the thousands of ballots cast, he still would have won.
In a democracy, that’s not one side bossing the other around, it’s just how the system works. The “republic, not a democracy” trope popular with people like Crenshaw on the right relies on a semantic twist. When the Framers wrote the Constitution, the word “democracy” meant direct democracy—the kind practiced in ancient Greece, where citizens voted directly on the laws themselves, without elected officials as intermediaries. If the Framers had called the United States a democracy in their time, they would have been arguing that every law the government passed should be, in effect, a ballot initiative. To the Framers, a “republic” meant what we today call a democracy: a system where the people elect their representatives, who then write and vote on laws. The defining feature of a republic, the Framers stated time and again, was majority rule...
PEOPLE LIKE MITCH MCCONNELL HAS MADE A GAME OUT OF OUR DEMOCRACY!
HE HAS SUCCEEDED IN ENSURING THE REPUBLICANS WINS EVEN IF A MINORITY!
STOP THIS MADNESS!
Start with Elimination of the Filibuster...
Ensure majority rules
ENSURE VOTING RIGHTS ARE APPROVED!
STOP MANCHIN AND OTHERS WHO VOTE TO OBSTRUCT WHAT THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS WANT AND NEED!