Ilhan Omar says Democrats need to grow ‘backbone’ and abolish filibuster to overcome Republican opposition

Minnesota progressive says quibbling about bipartisanship is a waste of time given intense Republican opposite to the Biden agenda

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 06 May 2021 15:14 EDT
Mitch McConnell says '100 per cent' of his focus is on stopping Biden

Joe Biden may have run for president as something of a unity candidate, but Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar says Democrats need to “grow a backbone” and stop worrying so much about bipartisanship and abolish the filibuster if they are ever to pass their agenda in the face of strong Republican opposition.

“Democrats can’t repeat the mistake of 2009, we must abolish the filibuster & move legislation that helps us deliver progress for the American people,” she tweeted on Wednesday. “Let’s grow a backbone.”

The comments came in response to remarks from GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters on Wednesday he was focused on stopping the Biden administration from turning “America into a socialist country”.

“100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” Mr McConnell said. “The president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument about what the new administration should be like.”

For Ms Omar and others, these comments were reminiscent to remarks Mr McConnell made in 2009, in the early days of the Obama administration, when he told National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

The minority leader, following Mr Biden’s recent conciliatory joint address to Congress, has also criticised the president for not being sufficiently bipartisan.

There was some hope after Mr Biden clinched the presidency that he and Mr McConnell, who have been friends and were Senate colleagues for more than 30 years, would be more together better than the scorched-earth partisanship of the Trump years.

Critics point to the Biden administration’s signature achievement so far, the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, as evidence of that this hasn’t happened: it passed with no GOP support.

The president, for his part, didn’t seem too concerned about his powerful Republican counterpart’s threats.

“Look, he said that in our last administration, (with former President) Barack (Obama, that) he was going to stop everything – and I was able to get a lot done with him,” Mr Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

Still, Democrats, who hold only slim majorities in the Senate and House, will need to find some way to get their agenda through Congress.

Some, like Ms Omar, are calling for abolishing the filibuster, a procedural tactic in the Senate that stalls passage of legislation until a super-majority of 60 senators vote to continue, effectively shutting down most bills that aren’t extremely popular in a bipartisan way.

Theoretically, all 50 Democratic senators could vote to end the filibuster, the so-called “nuclear option”, but centrist Dems like senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema oppose doing away with the mechanism.

Until either relations between the parties warm or the Senate goes nuclear, its unlikely the Biden administration will be able to pass the fullest versions of its agenda on key issues like expanding voting rights, reforming policing, rebuilding infrastructure, and opening up the immigration system.

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