PolitifactNC

Fact check: Cheri Beasley says her support of filibuster reform has always been 'very clear'

Posted November 18, 2021 12:33 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2021 5:36 p.m. EST

One of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate candidates told voters that she has been misquoted about her stance on the filibuster, a tool used to block legislation.

Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, is one of several Democrats running for the senate seat that Republican Sen. Richard Burr will vacate at the end of 2022.

During a campaign event at Duke University in mid-October, she was asked about her position on whether the U.S. Senate should eliminate the filibuster.

A man asked Beasley: “I read online that you’re the only Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from North Carolina that supports the filibuster. How can you justify that position amid everything going on in D.C.?”

Beasley responded this way:

“I appreciate the question. I can only tell you that I remember the article that you read and it just is not quite true. Let’s take a look back. Because the reality is there is something deeply wrong when there is a process that allows a procedure which really is a tool of gridlock, which stops and prohibits the passage of the kind of legislation that the majority of the American people support — like voting rights. We need filibuster reform, and I’ve always been very clear about that. I’m sorry I was misquoted on that.”

She went on to say she hoped the U.S. Senate would pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Republicans ultimately blocked.

Given the confusion at the Duke event, we wondered: Has Beasley always been very clear about supporting filibuster reform, as she asserts?

Her previous statements on the issue certainly show a willingness to consider filibuster reform. However, it’s an exaggeration to say Beasley has “always been very clear about her position.”

Where top candidates stand

The filibuster, a loosely-defined term, generally refers to a rule allowing a minority of senators to hold up legislation.

Lawmakers can delay things by speaking on the Senate floor for hours at a time, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) did in 2013 when he read the children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act. The speeches can influence other senators or stall the vote to give lawmakers time to reach a compromise. In some cases, the speeches go down as merely performative — having no influence on legislation.

Senators don’t actually need to speak for hours on the floor to effectively use the filibuster, as PBS explained earlier this year. They can simply say they object to the legislation under consideration. Then, to end debate on the bill, the Senate must trigger what’s known as “cloture.” But that tool requires 60 favorable votes. Republicans effectively used the tool last month to block the Democrats’ voting rights legislation, known as the For The People Act.

Democrats control the White House and Congress, but their majority is so narrow that a filibuster can effectively block almost any controversial legislation.

In North Carolina, Democrats running for Burr’s seat have been repeatedly asked about this issue on the campaign trail. While several candidates are seeking the party’s nomination, Beasley is considered a top contender because she has won a statewide election and because of the amount of money she has raised.

Other leading candidates include state Sen. Jeff Jackson and former state Sen. Erica Smith.

Smith called for eliminating the filibuster early in her campaign. Jackson has taken a wait-and-see approach while criticizing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for saying he would under “no circumstance” consider scrapping it.

While the National Republican Senatorial Committee accused Jackson of flip-flopping on the issue, PolitiFact NC found that Jackson repeatedly tied his position to how Republicans treated Democrats’ top legislative priorities.

The Jackson campaign told PolitiFact NC on Nov. 17 that he supports eliminating the filibuster.

“The filibuster is simply being used as a bad faith tool of gridlock by Mitch McConnell, particularly around voting rights legislation,” campaign spokesman Dylan Arant said. “If there weren’t enough support for elimination, then Jackson would also support the ‘talking filibuster’ reform to make it harder to obstruct.”

Beasley, for her part, announced on Oct. 28 that she fully supports eliminating the filibuster. The move came after months of Beasley saying she would “take a look at” full elimination.

But was she always “very clear” about wanting reform?

What Beasley has said

Let’s take a look at what Beasley has said about the filibuster.

  • May 1: WFAE-FM asked Beasley whether she would eliminate the filibuster in order to pass H.R. 1, the voting rights bill. She responded: “I am glad to take a look at it, but what I am confident of is that legislation that supports the people of North Carolina, that there be no barriers to that passing. Voting rights are very important. We really must do everything in our power to make sure that people are not prevented from casting their ballot and stating their choice for those who offer themselves for service.” Asked specifically about eliminating the filibuster, she said it’s “something that I would take a look at.”
  • June 11: WXII-TV asked Beasley if she would vote to end the filibuster to pass H.R. 1. “I would certainly think about the relevancy of it.”
  • July 26: The News & Observer reported on the Democratic U.S. Senate candidates’ positions on the filibuster. Beasley told the paper: “A procedural rule shouldn’t stand in the way of policies that the overwhelming majority of Americans and North Carolinians support, which is why I’d take a look at changes that would benefit our state, recognizing that it also has been used to block harmful legislation in the past.”
  • Aug. 16: Beasley was asked about her position during a webinar with supporters dubbed, “Women for Beasley.” She responded: “You know, I have thought deeply about it. And the reality is, it has in many ways benefited Democrats and people across North Carolina and this state. I’ll certainly take a look at it. What I am confident of, is that legislation that people here in North Carolina care deeply about, and people across the country (care deeply about), like voting rights, should not be held up by the filibuster.”
  • Aug. 17: WXII-TV reported “Two months ago, Ms. Beasley did not provide a definitive answer on the Senate filibuster that’s holding up voting reform. That position did not change today.” Beasley told the reporter: “It’s a tough issue. HR1, SR1 need to pass. They absolutely do. The filibuster is a much bigger issue.”
  • Aug. 28: When asked in an interview with WCNC-TV whether she’d vote to eliminate the filibuster, Beasley didn’t give a yes or no answer. She said: “I am very concerned and understand that, here we are 56 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and we are still fighting for basic fundamental rights around the right to vote. I’m deeply concerned about that. I also know it’s been almost 200 days that the Senate has sat on the For The People Act. And the For the People Act is exactly what the people of North Carolina want passed. They want to know there’s voter protection, and they also want to know that there will be a senator there who’s going to fight to protect this very basic and fundamental right to vote. And they don’t want the Senate to play around with that.”
  • Sept. 1: The Daily Beast reported on comments Beasley made during an Aug. 16 “Women for Beasley” event. Campaign spokeswoman Dory MacMillan told the Daily Beast that Beasley “believes a procedural rule shouldn’t stand in the way of solutions that an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support” and that “given the grave threat to democracy she would support a carve out for legislation to support voting rights, and as she has said, would consider broader reforms to the filibuster.”
  • Oct. 22: In a video forum with LGBTQ+ Dems, Beasley said this about filibuster reform: “And so as you ask about the filibuster, the reality is we must be deeply concerned about a process where there’s a procedure that contains a tool of gridlock that prohibits the passage of legislation the majority of Americans support. And the reality is the majority of Americans support the Equality Act and the Voting Rights Act — and so many other pieces of legislation that the Senate is not able to get passed. We must get past this, and we absolutely must have filibuster reform.”

The ‘misquoted’ comment

During her campaign event at Duke University, Beasley claimed she had been misquoted about her position.

When we inquired with her campaign about what was misquoted, MacMillan said Beasley was referring to the headline of the Daily Beast story, which said, “New footage shows NC Dem Senate candidate lauding filibuster.”

Beasley merely noted how the filibuster had been used in the past, MacMillan said, and didn’t “laud” it as the Daily Beast headline suggested. The definition of “laud” means to praise or extol, according to Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster. While Beasley highlighted how the filibuster has worked to benefit Democrats — something she would certainly be grateful for — footage reviewed by PolitiFact NC didn’t show Beasley explicitly stating that the filibuster is a positive thing.

Our ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly False

Beasley said “We need filibuster reform, and I’ve always been very clear about that.”

Beasley’s quote makes it seem like, prior to her October commitment to eliminate the filibuster, she had come out fully in favor of some kind of reform.

From May through July, she said she’d “take a look at” or “think about” eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. Based on the information PolitiFact NC has reviewed and Beasley’s campaign has provided, it wasn’t until September that Beasley’s campaign explicitly said she would “carve out” the filibuster to support voting rights and would “consider” broader reforms.

Her statement contains an element of truth — she has consistently said there should be no barriers to passing voting rights legislation. But it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression — she didn’t specify her stance on filibuster reform until September. And only in October did she clearly state “we absolutely must have filibuster reform.”

We rate the claim that she has always been clear about that Mostly False.

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