“For anyone who comes to you and talks to you about how important changes in the immigration laws are to them, ask how they feel about filibuster reform. I stood on the floor of the United States Senate back in 2013 when we had a bill that would have created – it wasn’t a perfect bill – but would have created some paths to citizenship, certainly would have improved from where we were. And what happened? It got 54 votes, I think it was, which in any hundred-member body should mean it passed. But not in the world of the filibuster, because the filibuster loads the game against those who want change.”
– Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at a town hall campaign event in Des Moines , Dec. 28, 2019
“So long as we have a filibuster, nothing gets through the Senate unless it has 60 votes. I was in the Senate back in 2013 when an immigration bill passed, but it only had 54 votes, I think it was, and even though that’s a majority, it wasn’t enough to beat the filibuster.”
– Warren, in an interview with Spanish-language show “Qué Pasa Iowa?”
Twice in one day, Warren claimed that a bipartisan bill to overhaul immigration laws fell prey to the Senate filibuster in 2013.
The Democratic presidential contender is calling for major changes to the U.S. immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship “for the approximately 11 million undocumented individuals currently living and working in the United States.” Warren also wants to end the legislative filibuster, saying, “It’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.”
But Warren erred in connecting those two dots.
A comprehensive immigration overhaul passed the Senate with 68 votes, including hers. The 2013 immigration plan later died in the Republican-controlled House.
The filibuster was adopted in the early years of Congress, the theory being that lawmakers should be able to hold the floor and speak as long as necessary on any issue. The House chucked the filibuster as its membership grew. But it survives in the Senate, where a single member may block legislation unless it garners 60 votes.
Supporters say the filibuster is a necessary check on legislative excess and ensures a voice for the minority party. Critics say the filibuster is regularly weaponized to thwart majority rule and major legislation such as the Civil Rights Act. (“The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina’s J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957,” according to the Senate Historical Office.)
In recent years, conservatives have blocked emissions cap-and-trade and gun-control bills using the filibuster, and liberals have used it to block abortion legislation.
Months after joining the Senate in 2013, Warren called for an end to the filibuster for presidential nominations because minority Republicans were using it to block President Barack Obama’s court appointments. Democrats led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada invoked the “nuclear option” and scrapped the filibuster for many nominations, except for the Supreme Court.
Then, in 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Republicans nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, clearing the way for Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed as a justice the next day.
The last remnant is the legislative filibuster, and Warren wants it gone, too. Politico reported that “with Democrats like Warren talking about big ideas like the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all and new tax plans, it’s become more and more clear that a minority of GOP senators could stop them even if Democrats sweep the 2020 election.”
The immigration bill passed the Senate 68 to 32 in June 2013. But the House, then controlled by Republicans, refused to take it up.
Among its provisions, the bill would have created legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented residents in the country, and included “enormous investments in border security, including the following: deploying at least 38,405 full-time Border Patrol agents along the southern border (including an additional 19,200 more than currently in place); mandating an electronic exit system at all ports where Customs and Border Protection agents are deployed; constructing at least 700 miles of fencing, including double fencing; increasing mobile surveillance; deploying aircraft and radio communications; constructing additional Border Patrol stations and operating bases; hiring additional prosecutors, judges, and staff; providing additional training to border officers; and increasing prosecutions of illegal border crossings,” according to the American Immigration Council. (Warren now supports decriminalizing border crossings.)
The senator said in Iowa that she thought the immigration bill had passed with 54 votes.
“Elizabeth meant to reference the right-wing filibuster that rejected background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre,” Warren campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma said. “Elizabeth has been a leader in calling for an end to the filibuster and passing sweeping anti-corruption reforms so we can make real progress on issues the American people care about.”
The 2013 effort to pass background-check legislation did receive 54 votes in the Senate, six short of a filibuster-proof majority. Warren has said its defeat is a prime example of why the filibuster needs to go.
But why would Warren pivot to gun control in the middle of extended answers about immigration? Did she really mean to do that, as her campaign said? Or did Warren simply get her wires crossed in two separate appearances? We couldn’t get a straight answer from her campaign.
“Her answer is the same filibuster answer on how you get things done in Washington – the question is really about how can we get things passed in Congress; she reverted to her filibuster answer,” Sharma said. “That’s how we see it.”
The Senate filibuster did not kill the immigration bill in 2013 – the Republican-controlled House did.
Regular readers know we sometimes withhold Pinocchios when a politician admits error, especially if it’s a one-off statement. But the explanation must make sense. We’re not convinced by the Warren campaign’s seeming rationalization that she meant to talk about gun control in the middle of two extended answers about immigration.
Warren earns a maximum four Pinocchios.