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Warren, Buttigieg take Sanders to task for embracing the filibuster

The Vermont senator's position on the issue breaks with that of many other progressives.
Image: Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders
Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg took aim at Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for refusing to support the elimination of the 60-vote rule to pass legislation in the Senate — a rare issue on which he's out of step with many progressive activists.

At the debate here four days before the South Carolina presidential primary Saturday, Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, said scrapping the filibuster and allowing legislation to pass by simple majority votes is essential to "get something done" in the Senate over the objections of Republicans and powerful industry groups.

"I've been in the Senate, and I've seen gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority and then doesn't pass because of the filibuster," Warren said. "Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry. It gives a veto to the oil industry. It's going to give a veto on immigration."

She added, "If Mitch McConnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President Obama, and that is try to block every single thing he does, then we are going to roll back the filibuster."

The filibuster is a longstanding Senate rule at the heart of the chamber's robust minority rights. It requires a majority of votes in the chamber to be eliminated. The 60-vote rule has in recent years been scrapped for presidential nominations to the executive branch and to the judiciary, but it remains for legislation.

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"Many people on this stage do not support rolling back the filibuster," Warren said, referring to Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, and former Vice President Joe Biden, a former longtime senator.

The remarks elevate a line of attack that Warren, who has fallen behind in polls, recently debuted against her progressive rival after months of reluctance to criticize him. As she spoke, her campaign issued a press release titled "We Need to Get Rid of the Filibuster."

Sanders has proposed to use a budget procedure known as reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote rule and approve his tax and spending plans.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was more explicit. "How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won't even support a rule change?" he asked Sanders, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Buttigieg noted that the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina used the filibuster to try to block civil rights legislation.

"No less a Senate traditional figure than [former Democratic leader] Harry Reid has called for it to go," Buttigieg said. "It has got to go, because otherwise Washington will not deliver."