NYU Law’s fifth annual Sidley Austin Forum examined ways that politicians might overcome partisanship to address challenges such as voting rights and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a keynote address, US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota discussed the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and called for reform of the filibuster, which she said perpetuates political polarization by preventing either party from passing legislation.
Bob Bauer, professor of practice, distinguished scholar in residence, and co-director of the Legislative and Regulatory Process Clinic at NYU Law, moderated a panel discussion that also examined how to bridge the political divide in Washington, DC. Panelists included Yamiche Alcindor, host of the PBS news analysis show Washington Week and White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour; Sarah Binder, professor of political science at George Washington University; and Paul Kane, senior congressional correspondent and columnist at the Washington Post.
Held virtually on June 16, the Forum was co-hosted by the law firm Sidley Austin and NYU Law’s Legislative and Regulatory Process Clinic.
Selected remarks from their discussion:
Amy Klobuchar: “I always think, try as much as you can to get some things done that are bipartisan. It may be small, medium, or even big things like we did last year with a number of the plans in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But what’s standing in our way over and over again is the Senate filibuster, which is a relic of an era where it was used by segregation senators to block civil rights legislation….We shouldn’t be letting archaic Senate rules stop us from making progress.” (video 22:41)
Klobuchar: “I just think that polarization has gotten worse and there’s some reasons for that…One of them is the money in politics and how instead of just running your own campaign and running against someone else…it becomes all of these PACs and super PACS and the like….I want to see campaign finance reform.” (video 31:18)
Sarah Binder: “What exactly is partisan polarization? I think we tend to use a single term to capture, really, three different trends in American politics. First as an increase in ideological polarization. Second, a rise in just sort of sheer partisan team play, and then a third, an increase in electoral competitiveness of the parties. All of these are rising in tandem… I think it’s helpful just to distinguish between them because they each of them seem to play a role in complicating getting a ‘yes’ on Capitol Hill.” (video 37:17)
Paul Kane: “The biggest change in the day-to-day life of Congress right now is just how much of the legislative agenda is entirely controlled inside the House speaker’s office, and the Senate majority leader’s office, and just how little input members get on really important issues.” (video 46:01)
Yamiche Alcindor: “I still think all of this fundamentally comes down to the fact that you have two parties that fundamentally don’t believe in the same sort of democracy. If you talk to Democrats, they say, ‘It’s not just voter suppression, it’s not just the Republicans calling into question whether or not President Biden is the legitimate president. You also have this idea of voter nullification…that’s what we should be calling this.’…Republicans are now basically saying, ‘If you don’t agree with us, we will find a way for your vote not to count’… Fundamentally, we can’t even agree on the sky being blue like it’s the fundamental truth.” (video 1:30:34)
Watch video of the event:
Posted August 19, 2021