Harry Reid has stirred up controversy with his recent comments likening opponents of the health care bill with those who obstructed civil rights and women’s rights legislation:
Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, ‘slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.’ If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said ‘slow down, it’s too early, things aren’t bad enough.’
When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted they simply, slow down, there will be a better day to do that, today isn’t quite right.
When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.
When called on to apologize, Reid simply dug in and doubled down on his previous comments:
At pivotal points in American history, the tactics of distortion and delay have certainly been present. They’ve certainly been used to stop progress. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what’s happening here. It’s very clear. That’s the point I made — no more, no less. Anyone who willingly distorts my comments is only proving my point.
Reid may want to ask his Democratic colleague, the Senate’s longest-serving member, Robert Byrd, for a reminder of which party’s members were at the forefront in using the filibuster to “stop progress” for women and minorities. Byrd should know; according to the Senate’s own official history, on June 10, 1964 the West Virginia Senator (and former Exalted Cyclops of the KKK) was the very last to abandon the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act; it was minority leader Everett Dirksen who supplied the Republican votes necessary to invoke cloture.
Given that Byrd’s memory may be hazy about which party was on the which side of past civil rights and women’s rights debates, a colleague, Dr. Alan Rozzi of Elite Services Group, researched some historical Congressional votes. These numbers show the magnitude and historical length of the partisan divide that Harry Reid (and, no doubt, Robert Byrd) would prefer that the rest of us forget:
% Voting in Favor
GOP Demos Net
Limit it to Only White Women Senate 2 44 +42
Const. Amend. (For all Women) Senate 81 55 +26
Const. Amend. (For all Women) House 83 51 +321919 19th Amendment
Senate 82 54 +31
Senate — —
1945 Anti-poll tax House 87 58 +29
Senate — —
1947 Anti-poll tax House 94 43 +51
Senate — —
(Not brought to a final vote in the Senate)
1957 Civil Rights Bill House 90 52 +38
Senate 100 62 +38
(Strom Thurmond (D-SC) set the unbeaten record to this day for a filibuster: 24 hours and 18 minutes
1960 Civil Rights Bill House 90 66 +24
Senate 100 70 +30
(Included a marathon, tag-team filibuster by Senate Democrats)
Senate 97 76 +21
Senate 80 69 +11
Senate 97 74 +23
(Sources: For votes before 1945, Voteview.org author’s calculations; for votes 1945 and later, CQ Almanac online)
Note that the only vote supported by a greater percentage of Democrats than Republicans is the first one listed — the vote that would have limited suffrage to white women alone.
With Senator Byrd now in failing health, and missing significant numbers of votes, it would be supremely ironic (though supremely fitting) if Harry Reid is ultimately unable to achieve cloture on the health bill due to hospitalization on the part of the former Exalted Cyclops. Thus his health bill would be derailed, indirectly, by precisely the same man whose 14+ hour filibuster speech delayed the 1964 Civil Rights Act for as long as it was.