Fetterman Hits The Ground Running!

Those of us hoping that John Fetterman would win Pennsylvania’s Senate race and defeat the oleaginous “Dr. Oz” should be very pleased with the initial steps Fetterman is taking as he prepares to assume office.

U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman on Friday announced two key staff hires for his office on Friday, including tapping the author of a book calling for the abolishment of the arcane Senate filibuster to be his next chief of staff.

The Pennsylvania Democrat said in a statement that he has hired Adam Jentleson to oversee his D.C. office as chief of staff and that longtime party operative and labor organizer Joseph Pierce will be his state director.

A veteran of the Senate who served under former Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Jentleson also wrote the 2021 book, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern State and the Crippling of American Democracy, which examines Senate rules that powerful interests have exploited to obstruct progressive legislation with overwhelming majority support among the American public”

 Jentleson has been a strong voice for ending the filibuster, which he insists is necessary to protect American democracy. I couldn’t agree more.

Those who haven’t followed the Senate’s inner workings may not realize that the filibuster in its current iteration bears little or no resemblance to the original rule. Whatever original purpose the filibuster may have served, for many years its use was infrequent. For one thing, it required a Senator to actually make a lengthy speech on the Senate floor.. In its current form, it operates to require government by super-majority–it has become a weapon employed by extremists to hold the country hostage.

A bit of history is instructive.

The original idea of a filibuster was that so long as a senator kept talking, the bill in question couldn’t move forward. Once those opposed to the measure felt they had made their case, or at least exhausted their argument, they would leave the Senate floor and allow a vote. In 1917, when filibustering Senators threatened President Wilson’s ability to respond to a perceived military threat, the Senate adopted a mechanism called cloture, allowing a super-majority vote to end a filibuster.

In 1975, the Senate again changed the rules, making it much, much easier to filibuster.

The new rules allowed other business to be conducted during the time a filibuster is (theoretically) taking place. Senators no longer are required to take to the Senate floor and publicly argue their case. This “virtual” use has increased dramatically as partisan polarization has worsened, and it has effectively abolished the principle of majority rule. It now takes the sixty votes needed for cloture to pass any legislation.

This anti-democratic result isn’t just in direct conflict with the intent of the Founders, it has brought normal government operation to a standstill.

Meanwhile, the lack of any requirement to publicly debate the matter keeps Americans  from hearing and evaluating the rationale for opposition to a measure–or even understanding why nothing is getting done.

There is really no principled argument for maintaining the filibuster in its current form. During the campaign, Fetterman repeatedly promised to support efforts to end the filibuster in the Senate, explaining that abolishing it would allow  key legislation to pass on gun control, labor protections, abortion rights, and voting access.

Jettleman has also pushed for Democrats to brand Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination as “illegitimate” in order to pave the way for eventually eliminating the filibuster and adding more seats to the court. In 2020, he had an op-ed in the New York Times a few days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, in which he argued that– while Democrats did not have the power to block a nomination by then-President Donald Trump–they could  and should work to delegitimize it.

I first read about Fetterman when he was the very unorthodox Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and (while I’ll admit to being somewhat puzzled by his choice of clothing) I was impressed. Here was a person who actually wanted to be mayor, wanted to improve his community, unlike the many politicians who clearly view local office solely as a stepping-stone.

Fetterman is evidently bringing that same sensibility to the Senate. His choices of staff are indications that he will focus on the nuts and bolts of actual governance, rather than following the culture war/negative partisanship of Senators like Indiana’s Mike Braun. (Braun is so uninterested in the nuts and bolts of legislating that he has announced he’ll leave the Senate and run for Governor.)

Fetterman joins other Democrats who seem intent upon actually addressing the problems we face. Getting rid of the filibuster would allow them to do so.