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McConnell defends remarks on racial history of Senate filibuster

The Kentucky Republicans said the filibuster is not racist relic, however historians dispute that.
Image: U.S. Senate Minority Leader McConnell walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 8, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

As Republicans work to preserve the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the case Tuesday that the rule should be measured by its origins, not the instances it was used to perpetuate racism.

McConnell argued in a speech early Tuesday on the Senate floor that Democrats are exploiting race in their attempts to overhaul, or outright abolish, the filibuster.

McConnell pointed to the rule’s origin as not being rooted in race-based laws. Historians have said the rule wasn’t created to protect discriminatory legislation, but that it was associated with segregationists for over a century.

“These talking points are an effort to use the terrible history of racism to justify a partisan power grab in the present," McConnell said in his speech. McConnell, noting the times it has been used by Democrats, asked in his speech if it "magically became an offensive relic the instant Democrats came to have a majority?"

A spokesperson for McConnell then sought to clarify the the Kentucky Republican's remarks.

Doug Andres, a spokesperson for McConnell, said in a tweet that the lawmaker was referring to the origins of the Senate filibuster when he said there is no debate among historians about the racial history.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in an interview with Axios that the legislative filibuster requiring 60 votes in the Senate to end debate on a bill "has deep roots in racism." Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., went further and said in a tweet last week it "was created so that slave owners could hold power over our government.” Other Democrats also made similar charges.