As their legislative wish list languishes in a deadlocked Senate, many Democrats are more anxious than ever to jettison the filibuster—and they’re hoping the 2022 midterm elections will bring to the Senate more supporters of changing that long-standing rule.
But a Democratic front-runner in one of the most competitive states on the 2022 map, Cheri Beasley of North Carolina, is not only uncommitted about ending the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for passing bills, she has declared on the campaign trail that the filibuster has been a good thing in the past.
During a video call with supporters in August, Beasley was asked about her position on the filibuster, according to a recording of the event obtained by The Daily Beast. She said she had “thought deeply about it” but did not offer a position one way or the other.
But Beasley did offer an unusual argument to see from a Democratic candidate about the filibuster in 2021. “The reality is,” she said, “it has in many ways benefited Democrats and people across North Carolina.”
Many Democrats have cast the filibuster as a remnant of a racist and discriminatory past by tagging it as a “Jim Crow relic,” as former President Obama and others have done, given its role in blocking civil rights legislation. And many Democratic voters—particularly the more liberal ones—increasingly feel that lawmakers ought to abolish the 60-vote threshold.
Which is why Beasley’s viewpoint on the Senate rule may be consequential. The former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court was the first Black woman to serve in that role, and she has cast herself as the kind of independent-minded, battle-tested candidate that can win a tough race in the state.
“Cheri believes a procedural rule shouldn’t stand in the way of solutions that an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support,” said Dory MacMillan, a spokesperson for the Beasley campaign, when asked about the recording. “Given the grave threat to democracy she would support a carve out for legislation to support voting rights, and as she has said, would consider broader reforms to the filibuster.”
Asked by The Daily Beast what Beasley felt to be a positive outcome of the filibuster, her campaign pointed to the failure of anti-abortion legislation championed by Republicans, which have failed in the Senate, and to GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though there is plenty of debate among Democrats about whether or not the 60-vote threshold truly protected their signature health care law.
The comment is the first public confirmation that Beasley specifically supports changing the Senate’s 60-vote vote threshold in order to pass a voting and elections overhaul, a third option that moderate Democrats are increasingly warming up to as their signature bill, the For The People Act, stalls amid GOP filibusters.
And it remains consistent that Beasley has not ruled out or in more sweeping changes to the filibuster rule, though she has not publicly credited the filibuster for positive outcomes in the way she did during the private call. Since entering the race in May, local outlets have said Beasley has ducked questions about the issue.
Beasley’s main rival, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, has courted liberal primary voters’ support by embracing calls to end the filibuster. After saying in January his support for the 60-vote threshold was conditional on GOP obstructionism, Jackson publicly slammed a main filibuster holdout in April, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), calling his position “incredibly reckless.” Jackson said people could call Manchin’s office to register their disapproval—“or you can just elect me and we’re good here,” he tweeted.
Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who is openly running as the staunch progressive choice, was the first to vocally endorse an end to the filibuster, but she has lagged behind Beasley and Jackson in fundraising and early polling.
Republicans, eager to use the issue as a way of framing purple state candidates as overly liberal, have already gone after Jackson for his filibuster stance. The party’s official Senate campaign arm commented in April that “soon there won’t be any difference” between Jackson’s platform and that of Smith, the unabashed progressive.
Differences over the filibuster proved potent in Democrats’ 2020 primaries, and while the 2022 cycle has barely begun, the dynamic has only intensified as the GOP leverages the filibuster to stymie the party’s agenda in Washington. There is considerable pressure from activists for Democratic candidates to embrace a rules change that could enable them to pass a number of items.
As Beasley remains noncommittal about broader filibuster changes, she finds herself on an increasingly shrinking island of Democratic Senate candidates nationwide.
In other 2022 battleground states, candidates at the top of Democratic primary packs have called for the filibuster’s demise forcefully and frequently. In Pennsylvania, for example, all the leading candidates vying to replace outgoing GOP Sen. Patrick Toomey have done so, from the progressive lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, to the more moderate Rep. Conor Lamb.
While Republican-leaning North Carolina will be a tougher race for Democrats, the top candidates running for Senate in two other states that Donald Trump won, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rep. Val Demings of Florida, have also called for an end to the filibuster.
During her remarks, Beasley did leave herself some room to maneuver. She said she would “certainly take a look at” any changes to the rule.
“What I am confident of is that legislation that people here in North Carolina care deeply about and people across this country, like voting rights, should not at all be held up at all by the filibuster,” Beasley said.