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‘No one would drop a single tear’: Warren, Colbert talk voting rights, the filibuster, and abolishing the Senate

Senator Elizabeth Warren.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

While Senator Elizabeth Warren indulged in some laughs with comedian and “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert Monday night — namely over her dog Bailey’s love of burritos — she focused most of the conversation on upcoming business in the Senate.

Warren appeared on the show as the nation marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Democrats were in the midst of a push to pass voting rights bills. Talking to Colbert, she voiced support for the legislation, argued for the complete elimination of the legislative filibuster, and defended the Senate’s role in democracy.

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“There is nothing we do as a democracy that is more important than guaranteeing that all American citizens have a right to vote and a right to have that vote counted,” Warren told Colbert, explaining that the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, waiting to be voted on in the Senate, will do just that.

The legislative package expands access to the ballot, clamps down on partisan gerrymandering, and widens what can be used as voter identification, among other initiatives.

Warren said that states that have recently passed voting restrictive laws “are out there doing everything they can to keep people from voting, to keep those votes from being counted, and to gerrymander with such surgical precision that an ever shrinking minority of Republicans will actually control not only the state legislature, but also seats in Congress and ultimately distort the election for President of United States.”

The vote on the bills is not expected to pass without the removal of the filibuster, which prevents most legislation from moving forward without a 60-vote majority. Though President Biden supports getting rid of the filibuster for the votes on these bills, Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have refused to change the rules.

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Despite the vote’s potential failure, Warren told Colbert that she believes it’s still important.

“Now we have not one single Republican, not one, who will vote to protect the vote in America,” Warren said. “One of the two major political parties in America has now said that it is their policy to win by keeping American citizens from voting. And fine. We ought to put them on record, make them vote on that, make a record of that, and hold them accountable in the next election.”

Warren went a step beyond this week’s voter rights bills to say that the legislative filibuster should be eliminated completely.

“If you actually want to use the federal government to help make us build a better country, and you’re not just there to try to cut taxes and appoint extremist judges, then you need to get rid of the filibuster and go by majority rule,” Warren said. Pointing to proposed gun safety, immigration, environmental, and reproductive legislation, she argued that lots of popular policies have failed to pass or even be discussed on the Senate floor because of the filibuster, which she said has its “roots in racism.”

“If you can’t get rid of the filibuster... what if we just get rid of the Senate?” Colbert asked Warren. “And I’m 100% serious here. It is the most anti-democratic institution next to the judiciary.”

“No one would drop a single tear,” he added. “You’ve already got tenure, you can go back to your real job, you’ll be fine.”

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But Warren defended the chamber. She said that with the removal of the filibuster, the Senate could take up its original mandate as a deliberative body, even if Republicans took control of the Senate after the midterms — something Warren gasped at the suggestion of.

“So long as we are tangled in the filibuster, then we don’t get to do what the founders envisioned that we would and that is debate the big issues of the day and then vote on them.”

“So a Senate with a filibuster — it’s a serious question,” she said. “Why are we there?”

Despite the possibility that the filibuster will not be modified and the voting bills will not pass this week, Warren said that she’s not giving up.

“We’re going to stay after them, I mean, we’re going to stay on them like a dog on a bone,” Warren said.

“Like Bailey on a burrito,” Colbert interjected.

“There you go!” Warren said. “Bailey on a burrito!”




Colleen Cronin can be reached at colleen.cronin@globe.com.