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The pivotal debate in U.S. politics: A rule change that would change everything for Biden –



American lawmakers are in the throes of a heated debate about one fundamental rule change that would shift so much of the country’s politics.

What happens next to the Senate’s decades-old filibuster rule could not only decide Joe Biden’s presidential legacy but the fate of a slew of bills that have been stalled for years.

It’s the rule that requires 60 per cent of senators to agree to even hold a vote on a bill, making it a silent legislative killer over the years that has created a graveyard of bills.

Gun control, climate change, immigration reform, electoral reform, statehood for Washington, D.C., Medicare access — bills addressing all these issues could hinge on one procedural choice.

Democrats now face a career-defining dilemma while they hold the rare trifecta of power: control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser testified at a day-long congressional hearing this week on the question of statehood for the capital. It’s not happening with the filibuster rule in place. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Will they preserve the Senate’s filibuster tradition, or gut it in the hope of passing big bills between now and next year’s congressional elections?

“It’s ridiculous,” said Brian Higgins, a Democrat in the House who wants the filibuster gone. In the interview, he also used stronger, less-printable language to describe the rule. 

“What Republicans want to do is make this administration fail. So they’re not going to co-operate on anything.… Democrats have to learn a lesson here. And the lesson is: Do big things.”

This debate that will shape all other debates in U.S. politics is playing out inside the Democratic Party, and it could come to a head within weeks.

Most Democrats agree with Higgins. And there’s mounting peer pressure on the few who don’t. One idea gaining steam among the holdouts is to keep the filibuster but to weaken it, or limit when it can be used.

Making that change would require every single Democrat to vote together and use their party’s one-vote majority to force the so-called nuclear option in amending chamber procedures.

Big decision will shape key bills

The stakes of this decision have been glaringly obvious these past few days. Democrats are working on bills that, without procedural change, risk going nowhere.

Under the Senate math, Democrats would need 10 Republicans to reach the magic 60-vote mark required to pass just about anything (aside from annual, short-term spending bills).

Biden announced his plan for green infrastructure in this campaign speech last September. It faces tall odds in the Senate under the current rules. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

On Monday, a House committee spent the day discussing a law to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state — but, for now, D.C. statehood is DOA.

On Tuesday, the Senate held a gun-control hearing. This is likely a doomed exercise, based on how few Republican votes there were after the Sandy Hook school massacre for a moderate background-check bill in 2013.

Similarly tall odds face immigration bills passed by the House, and political reforms that include an overhaul of political financing and voter registration.

Ditto climate change. Democrats plan to introduce a $2-trillion infrastructure bill that would spend heavily on green technology, which Republicans oppose

How we got here

So, how did the U.S. Senate wind up with this rule? 

The truth is a bit more muddled than it’s made out to be — by detractors who call the filibuster a recent aberration, and by defenders who call it a critical feature of American governance. 

In fact, even trained historians who sit in the U.S. Congress offer different takeaways.

One Harvard-educated student of American politics and former history teacher, Higgins, detests the filibuster.

Another Harvard-educated historian, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, vigorously defended it this week and warned that ditching the filibuster would have devastating effects. 

The issue even divides historians who sit in Congress. This one, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, says ending the filibuster would be a terrible turn in American politics. (Drew Angerer/Reuters)

Sasse said it would make American politics even angrier — instilling a winner-take-all mentality, closer to a parliamentary system than to the consensus-based chamber designed by America’s republican founders.

“It’ll be the end of the Senate,” Sasse said. “[We’d] be committing institutional suicide.” 

From its very creation, the engine of American lawmaking, the U.S. Congress, was built with a gas pedal (the House) and brake pad (the Senate).

The Senate is supposed to be slower, more deliberative, with members elected every six years, isolating them more from the political passions of the moment — compared to the House and its two-year terms, with members constantly in campaign mode.

The two chambers were pushed further down divergent paths early in the country’s history. 

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is one of two key Democrats to watch. She and Joe Manchin are rare defenders of the filibuster in their party. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

The Senate eliminated a British-based parliamentary rule that allowed a topic to be revisited, called the previous question rule. 

That rule evolved in the places where it continued to exist, such as Canada and the U.S. House, becoming a tool for calling a topic for a vote.

The Senate was left without a similar means to end a debate.

That made it possible to delay votes indefinitely, and in 1917, a frustrated President Woodrow Wilson, eager to arm U.S. merchant ships during the First World War, disparaged senators as a little group of wilful men who rendered the U.S. government helpless and embarrassing.

At his urging, the Senate created a rule to cut off debate, the cloture motion, with a two-thirds majority.

This system was strained to a breaking point decades later by civil rights debates.

The current filibuster rule was an attempt to stop long speeches that monopolized the Senate calendar, a tactic developed to block civil rights legislation by segregationists like Strom Thurmond. (Mike Theiler-Files/Reuters)

Southern segregationists stalled civil rights bills with interminable speeches. Strom Thurmond took steam baths to dry out his body so he wouldn’t have to go to the washroom during a 24-hour speech in which he killed time by reading the phone book.

A changing Democratic Party, with scores of younger members elected in the post-Watergate 1974 midterms, vowed to clamp down on long speeches, which, having earlier delayed civil rights, were more recently stalling other progressive bills such as the creation of a new consumer protection agency.

Walter Mondale, a future vice-president, led the reform.

Walter Mondale played a key role in adjusting the Senate filibuster rules in 1975. Here the senator is seen during the 1976 election, which made him vice-president. (Getty Images)

He warned that faith in government was plummeting and lawmakers needed to prove they could still respond to the voters’ will.

“The threat of the filibuster … hangs over this body like a heavy cloud,” Mondale said.

“[It’s] repeatedly used to block, delay, or compromise important social, economic, and governmental reform legislation favoured by an overwhelming majority.”

After weeks of impassioned debate, on March 7, 1975, the U.S. Senate passed the current rule: Out was the 67 per cent requirement, lowered to 60 per cent.

It created a new compromise: Most bills are now automatically blocked unless they get 60 votes, so there’s no need for hours-long speeches clogging up the chamber.

And that’s where things stand today.

Opinions were split from the start. Even on the pages of the New York Times, one editorial called the change a pathetic compromise that didn’t go far enough. 

But one of the paper’s most famous columnists offered a mournful lamentation of the destruction of the Senate’s intended spirit.

Arguments for and against

One of the southern Democrats who fought hardest against the reform, James Allen of Alabama, delivered multiple speeches, sucking down cherry-flavoured glucose for energy. 

He warned this was one step toward the eventual abolition of the filibuster.

“It is like cutting off a dog’s tail an inch at a time,” Allen said, warning that the 60-vote requirement would someday be eroded to a 51-vote majority rule.

He was prescient there: the filibuster has eroded.

Progressives are parsing this man’s words. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the other key Democratic senator to watch, is dead-set on keeping the filibuster. But he’s open to changing it. ( Jim Watson/Reuters)

Democrats dropped the filibuster rule for cabinet and low-level judicial confirmations in 2013, frustrated by stall tactics from Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell returned the favour when he gained the majority and ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017.

All that’s left to the filibuster is the biggest remaining piece: legislation. 

If the Democrats go down that route, McConnell has threatened to paralyze the chamber with tactics never before imagined.

Wielding reform as a threat against the GOP

Many Democrats want to call what they see as a bluff.

One reason progressives are keen to test McConnell’s threat is they’re convinced their priorities will win public support.

But there’s a broader argument about the basic structure of modern American politics.

Their argument is that partisan voting blocs are an essential fact of life now. Even if the founders never intended for the U.S. to have political parties, they exist now, elections are almost always close, and it’s increasingly impossible to get anything important done.

It’s been almost a half-century since a single election gave one party control of the White House, the House, and 60 Senate seats.

So progressives are now parsing every utterance from their party’s remaining filibuster-defenders, upon whose votes a rule change hinges: the key ones are Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Don’t expect the elimination of the filibuster. But some reform sounds possible.

WATCH | Biden calls for tougher guns laws after recent mass shootings: 

A 21-year-old man has been arrested after 10 people, including a police officer, were killed in a mass shooting inside a Boulder, Colo., grocery store on Monday. Court documents say the suspect, Ahmad Alissa, bought an assault rifle six days before the shooting, renewing calls for an assault-weapons ban in the U.S. 2:56

Manchin says he won’t budge on the 60-vote requirement, but he has said he’s open to making the filibuster harder — “more painful” — to use.

That puts him in line with President Joe Biden.

The longtime senator has defended the tradition but wants to do away with the automatic filibuster introduced in 1975, and force obstructionists to stand up and talk.

In the meantime, the mere threat of reform is being wielded as leverage. One filibuster defender, Sen. Angus King of Maine, writes that he’ll make a decision based on how McConnell behaves on other bills.

In a Washington Post op-ed, the senator, an Independent who mostly votes with Democrats, concluded with the implicit threat: “Over to you, Mitch.” 

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say



When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”


Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.



“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.


Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.


“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt



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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances



Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics



(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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