weather icon Clear

STEVE SEBELIUS: Future news: Democrats regret killing the filibuster

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2026 — Senate Democrats staged a walkout Thursday, protesting a Republican election overhaul bill that mandates nationwide voter identification, limits early voting to weekdays and gives states the authority to pass even more restrictive rules.

President Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law in a Rose Garden ceremony.

“Voting rights are the most important rights in our country, and Republicans have just rolled back the calendar to the 1950s,” said a frustrated Senate Minority Leader Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

But Senate Majority Leader John Thune, R-S.D., disagreed. “This Democratic stunt shows only that the minority party is out of ideas. This bill will ensure the integrity of our elections for years to come.”

The bill’s passage is a stunning turnaround in the space of just four years after Democrats eliminated the legislative filibuster in 2022 to pass two voting reform bills.

Under pressure from progressive activists and civil rights leaders, then-President Joe Biden succeeded in persuading Democrats, along with two Republicans, into doing away with the filibuster.

Since then, Republicans have used their majorities in the House and Senate to usher in a spate of longtime policy goals over strong Democratic objections, including a nationwide ban on all abortions after 10 weeks of pregnancy, the construction of an additional 400 miles of border wall and the expansion of oil exploration off the coast of California and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Former Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat who lost her seat despite opposing a change to the filibuster rules, said that warnings she issued in 2022 about Democrats eventually coming to regret junking the filibuster were prescient.

“I knew this was going to happen, but there was so much pressure to get those voting bills passed,” said Sinema, now a political science professor at Northern Arizona University. “The only thing left for Democrats is to try to win back seats, but that just got harder.”

White House press secretary Tucker Carlson dismissed Sinema’s concerns: “Ever since the stolen election of 2020, Democrats have been counting on rigging elections by making it easier and easier to vote, but President DeSantis vowed to put an end to that, and he looks forward to signing that bill.”

Now that the election reform bill has passed, Carlson said the White House will move forward on the appointment of Jenna Ellis to the Supreme Court seat left open by the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. Ellis will be the first nominee in the modern era to never have worked as a judge.

In a tacit admission decision that doing away with the filibuster may have backfired, Klobuchar and several other Democrats have suggested restoring it, at least for legislation. But majority Republicans have refused.

The erosion of the filibuster began in 2013, during the term of President Barack Obama, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. — facing an unbroken wall of Republican obstruction — did away with it for appointments of district and appellate court judges and administration officials. After Donald Trump was elected in 2016, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did the same for Supreme Court judges, citing Reid’s precedent.

But it was Biden in 2022 who inveighed against the filibuster as Republicans opposed voting rights, comparing opponents to racists and Confederate officials. At least two senators — Sinema and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — warned that gutting the filibuster would come back to haunt Democrats. But after former Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, broke ranks and voted with Democrats, Harris cast the tie-breaking vote.

Analysts at the time said the gains Democrats would enjoy with expanded mail voting, early voting and easier ballot access would offset the chances that they would lose the majority.

But inflation, debates over school policy and a resurgent Republican base turned Democrats out of office in 2022 and 2024.

Still, some Democrats had few regrets. Ex-Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., now a rainmaker at a Washington law and lobbying firm, didn’t back down.

“What were we supposed to do?” he asked. “Just sit there and let Republicans block everything forever? Wait for a supermajority? We saw a chance to allow more people to vote and we took it. I’d do it again. Democrats will inevitably be back in the majority some day, and we can then undo every bad thing the Republicans have done in the past four years.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
STEVE SEBELIUS: Racism has a body count

Two racially motivated killings on opposite sides of the country show that racism is not benign, and that we need to reject those who would divide us over race.