Twisting a McConnell Quote about the Filibuster and Race

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after the Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 13, 2021. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters)

    On March 23, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said of the filibuster: “It has no racial history at all . . . There’s no dispute among historians about that.” This led to approximately a million articles making an obvious point that McConnell almost certainly had no intention of contradicting: that the filibuster was often used to block civil-rights legislation.

    We have a pretty good clue about what McConnell actually meant. On the same day, he made his argument at greater length:

    Multiple fact-checkers have torn into this simplistic notion that the rules of the Senate are rooted in racism.

    Quote: “Historians told PolitiFact that the filibuster did not emerge from debates over slavery or segregation.” One scholar’s account was that “the very first Senate filibuster was over a bridge across the Potomac River.”

    The junior Senator for Massachusetts just got Three Pinocchios from the Washington Post for these arguments. Their look at history found, quote, “the first recorded filibusters in the Senate concerned issues such as where to locate Congress, what to do about Andrew Jackson’s censure over withdrawn federal deposits, who would be appointed to a publication called the Congressional Globe, and whether to create a national bank.”

    But I’m curious. If our Democratic colleagues really believe what they’re saying, did they themselves use a racist tool against Senator Scott’s police reform bill last year?

    Now, six days after both the soundbite and the speech, Saladin Ambar has an article in the Washington Post that explains that the filibuster was too used against civil rights, accuses McConnell of “willful historical forgetting” and “willful ignorance,” and doesn’t mention the speech. Ambar makes a big deal out of the fact that McConnell had previously expressed disapproval of these anti-civil rights filibusters. What changed, he pretends to ask, while not taking any account of the obvious explanation. It’s a willful historical forgetting of the events of less than a week ago.

    Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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