Democratic Senators: Filibuster Gorsuch—or Be Primaried

Democratic senators need to understand the passion out there in the blue hinterland. It’s time for an old-fashioned, Mr. Smith-style talkathon.


© Joshua Roberts / Reuters

“If the Democratic senators don’t filibuster Gorsuch, we will primary them!”

I heard this mantra from listener after listener who called in while I was hosting on SiriusXM radio’s Progress channel on Monday night. And I’m not talking about a handful of calls. I’m talking two straight hours of all the phone lines locked up with progressives calling from all over the country espousing the same impassioned words. The only exception came from one self-identified moderate Democrat who thought Senate Democrats should be more pragmatic and use the filibuster at a later date when they could possibly prevail.

I’m not sure the Democratic establishment is aware of the passion level these progressives have for wanting the Democratic senators to fight tooth and nail to stop the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Then again the establishment had no idea how much support Bernie Sanders would attract in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

It’s not that the Democratic establishment is aloof or elitist as some might suggest. Rather I believe many of them simply don’t hear these more progressive voices. After all they are rarely featured in the mainstream media. Add to that there’s no progressive equivalent of “conservative talk radio” with huge ratings such as Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity where politicians on the right not only can hear directly from the grassroots conservative base but also must pay attention to these voices or face a mutiny.

But it’s vitally important that Senate Democrats and the entire Democratic establishment understand exactly what’s going on beneath the surface as well as on the streets in the form of countless protests. This is not time to get along with Trump on any issue. To be blunt: Pragmatism in the time of Trump is not an option.

And, yes, I get that this sounds like the Tea Party from the left. Or maybe even it conjures up Barry Goldwater’s famous line, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” In our case, however, we are talking extremism in defending progressive values, which we see as the best of American values. And perhaps like Goldwater, who has been touted as the “father of American conservatism,” a new strain of the progressive movement will in time replace the more establishment, corporate-connected Democratic Party. At least that is what so many of us hope will be the case.

But perhaps the biggest difference between the progressives and the Tea Party activists is that their focus was political issues like fighting immigration, reducing the federal deficit, and lowering taxes. To us, this fight is not about politics. It’s very personal.

We want to send a message to one Donald J. Trump that we will fight every inch of the way on every single issue. We will never just go along and we will certainly never surrender.

Trump is a man who trafficked in bigotry, sexism, and racism in his quest for the White House. And since taking office he has continued. Trump has ginned up fears of immigrants by suggesting they are all inherently dangerous despite the fact that studies find that people born in America commit far more crimes on a percentage basis than immigrants. Trump is also causing fear in the Latino American community with his aggressive deportation schedule.

Trump has also continued to stoke fears of Muslims with his unconstitutional Muslim ban. It’s no coincidence that during the Trump presidency we have seen a spike in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, and our mosques are being increasingly targeted as CNN noted in a new report released earlier this week. Per CNN, from January to March there have been 33 hate incidents at U.S. mosques from arson to vandalism. In contrast, there we only 17 such incidents in all of 2016.

And then there are Trump’s proposed policies, from “Trumpcare” to his recently released budget proposal that targets the most vulnerable Americans. Not only will the elderly and poor suffer, but also the disabled community may have most to lose if Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid and other programs become law.

No, this is not about politics—it’s personal. And for some it’s truly a matter of life and death. Red state governors will not raise taxes to make up for the loss of Medicaid funding. The result is that Republican states will ration services, meaning some Americans in need will be without vital services.

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Consequently, we want Senate Democrats to filibuster Gorsuch. Stand up to Trump by literally standing up on the floor of the Senate. True it’s rare, but Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CN) waged a 14-hour filibuster last year and successfully convinced the Senate leadership to allow a vote on a gun safety law. What I’d truly love to see is an old-fashioned, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filibuster. I want to see them break out the cots—yes, the Senate actually owns 100 cots, in case there’s ever a real filibuster.

So I say to Democratic senators: Speak for as many hours as you are physically able. And in that time while the media is watching you filibuster, use it to remind people about how many of our fellow Americans, including Trump’s own supporters, will be truly hurt by Trump’s proposals. And use it to prevent the normalization of Trump by reading out loud Trump’s hateful comments about Latinos, Muslims, women, etc. In fact while you are at it, read the transcript of Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape.

In the end the Democratic filibuster will likely fail and Gorsuch may be confirmed. But being pragmatic and allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed without using every weapon in your arsenal will be a historic mistake. It will turn progressives against Senate Democrats and some will be primaried.

But a principled and passionate fight versus Gorsuch will be an inspiration. It may very well be the Democrats’ own version of Alamo. They may lose this fight but it could be part of the rallying cry from now until midterm election in November 2018. And every decision from now until that day must be what will inspire our base even more so we have a shot to win back the 24 seats we need to control the House. Period.