Proof Positive the Senate is Broken: Paralyzed Congress Can't Even Protect Itself

Thursday, May 27, 2021

For Immediate Release:
Amy Shenker,

Proof Positive the Senate is Broken:
Paralyzed Congress Can't Even Protect Itself

WASHINGTON DC – Leaders of the Democracy Initiative, with 75 member organizations representing 45 million union members, environmental activists, civil rights advocates and civic leaders, said today that the threat of a filibuster against legislation to authorize a commission to investigate the January 6 violent attack against Congress is “proof positive” that the U.S. Senate is “badly broken.”

“Under current Senate rules, the entire Congress is so paralyzed that it can’t even protect itself, much less the rest of us,” said Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative. “It’s way past time to abandon archaic, Jim Crow rules that prevent elected officials from doing their jobs. The threat of a filibuster against a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection is proof positive that the Senate is badly broken.”

“Sadly, this isn’t the only example of the filibuster being used to prevent the defense of our most basic democratic rights,” said Carter. “GOP senators will also try to use the filibuster to kill S1, the For the People Act. This voting rights and election reform bill is urgently needed to counter an onslaught of voter suppression bills in dozens of states, all based on the Big Lie about non-existent voter fraud in the 2020 election. The filibuster must not be allowed to block action on this crucial bill.”

Legislation authorizing a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6 is modeled after the 9/11 Commission. It passed the U.S. House on May 19 by a 252-175 vote, with support from Republicans and Democrats. Action in the Senate is being stalled by threat of a filibuster by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“It’s hard to imagine a more clear illustration of how broken our Senate has become and why it must be fixed,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause and co-chair of the Democracy Initiative Board of Directors. “Once a rare event, the filibuster is now a daily danger to our democracy. In this case, a filibuster may prevent us from ever learning a full accounting of the facts and causesthe truthabout a dangerous attempt to overturn a democratic election.”

“The filibuster is an artifact of Jim Crow and a creature of white supremacy,” said Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and also a co-chair of the Democracy Initiative Board of Directors. “The racist, violent riot that took place on January 6 was not just an attack on Congress; it was an attack against all of usall of us who voted and all who believe deeply in the peaceful transition of power as a foundational principle of our democracy.”

“If we allow the minority to obstruct the majority who want a balanced bipartisan investigation of these terrible events, when will it stop?” asked Gebre. “The Senate must actnowto do their job and meet this country’s challenges with deliberation, debate and up or down votes. The people who braved a deadly pandemic to vote in 2020 deserve nothing less.”

The threat of a filibusteror an actual filibusteris blocking progress on urgent issues that affect the daily lives of the constituents of DI member organizations. These include voting rights, DC statehood, workplace rights, the minimum wage, the climate crisis, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and gun violence.

See below for additional comments by DI leaders and member organizations. This list will be updated.


Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster: "It could not be more clear: Senate Republicans have filibustered a bipartisan bill to form a bipartisan commission investigating an attack on their own lives and our democracy. Despite Sen. Krysten Sinema’s failed efforts with Senator Joe Manchin to convince Republicans to work with them to get this done, Sen. McConnell and his caucus once again rejected attempts at bipartisan work and committed themselves to obstruction. The debate is over. Now is the time to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon that a minority of senators can wield to veto popular bills and reforms our country urgently needs. Arizonans voted for immigration reform, protecting voting rights, preventing gun violence, expanding workers rights, raising the minimum wage, creating green jobs and a clean-energy economy, and to end discrimination on the LGBTQ+ communitynot endless gridlock. After witnessing Republicans’ extreme obstruction in action, Sen. Sinema and Sen. Kelly have a choicethey can prop up the Jim Crow filibuster or deliver on critical and popular policies to protect our democracy and build a better America that works for all of us. They won’t be able to do both.”

Karen Hobert Flynn, President, Common Cause: Read statement here.

Fix Our Senate: Read statement here.

Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO, League of Women Voters of the United States: “The January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol was an attack on our democracy that deeply shook the nation. The American people deserve to know the full truth about the events of that day. We strongly urge the United States Senate to explore this commission no differently than it did for the 9/11 commission. Congress must fully investigate the attack on our Capitol and provide the American people with a clear and complete account of the events of January 6.”

Joseph Geevarghese, Executive Director, Our Revolution: "The GOP filibuster shows how the party is now captive to radical right-wing extremists who pose a clear and present danger to our democracy."

People for the American Way: “Republicans are taking the unconscionable step of closing their eyes and ears to fact-finding around a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6. They are doing this for the basest and most cynical political reasons, even though they, their colleagues, staff and Capitol Police were threatened with murder on that day. That leaves only one option for responsible lawmakers: do whatever it takes to get an investigatory commission in placeand if that means ending the filibuster, end the filibuster.”

Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Public Citizen: “Truth and accountability are hallmarks of a functioning democracy. A deep dive investigation into this attack on our government should be neither partisan nor controversialit is exactly what our country needs to protect ourselves from future attacks of this kind. At this point, it’s crystal clear: to save democracy, we have to end the filibuster. The American people deserve a working Senate; a Senate that will safeguard our democracy, can pass common sense legislation like the creation of a commission to investigate an insurrection, and act on the other pressing crises our country faces.”


The Democracy Initiative is a coalition of 75 organizations with a collective 45 million members fighting for workers, civil rights, social justice and the environment. DI partner organizations are united in their commitment to realizing the promise of American democracy where all people have an equal seat at the governance table.