Skip to main content

The truth about the Texas filibuster and abortion

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
Sen. Wendy Davis attempted to block a Texas abortion bill that would have greatly restricted abortions in the state, by attempting a 13-hour filibuster. The attempt fell short by about three hours when the chairman ruled she had gone off topic. Sen. Wendy Davis attempted to block a Texas abortion bill that would have greatly restricted abortions in the state, by attempting a 13-hour filibuster. The attempt fell short by about three hours when the chairman ruled she had gone off topic.
HIDE CAPTION
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster over abortion bill a rare look into state of politics
  • He says nationally GOP may be weak, but in states, where abortion vulnerable, it controls
  • He says depressing truth is despite Davis' feat, GOP likely to pass an abortion bill later
  • Waldman: At state level, GOP has real power, meaning women, minorities, poor suffer

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at The American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Parliamentary processes in state legislatures don't offer too many moments of genuine excitement, but on Tuesday night we saw one in Texas, as state Sen. Wendy Davis mounted a successful old-school, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster to stop a bill dramatically restricting women's access to abortion in our second-largest state.

It featured accusations and recriminations, aching feet in pink tennis shoes, shenanigans over the time stamp on the bill, and an angry crowd. This rare episode offers us an important illustration of where politics is in America today, and where it will be for some time to come.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

To simplify things a bit: The Republican party is in retreat, yet more aggressive than ever. The culture war will never die. And for all Americans' supposed disgust with party polarization, the people we elect are doing pretty much what the voters ask them to.

When Republicans won sweeping victories at the state level in the 2010 elections, they decided that they should use every ounce of power they had to remake the states they control.

Those Northeasterners might be passing marriage equality and expanding health insurance, but in the red states it was a different story. They rolled out bills to cut taxes for the wealthy and increase them for the poor, to make it harder for people to vote, and to reject the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (which meant keeping their poor populations without health insurance, even though the federal government would pick up the tab).

Perry renews Texas abortion battle with special session

They also went after abortion rights with particular zeal. No fewer than 92 state laws restricting abortion were passed in 2011, the year after the Republican victories; last year another 43 such laws were added to the books. Nationally, the GOP is in the doldrums, disliked by young people and growing minority groups, and with an increasingly unpopular agenda. But where they have power, they're making the most of it.

Wendy Davis describes Texas filibuster
Watch how Texas Senate filibuster began

The depressing truth is that despite Wendy Davis' heroic feat of vertical endurance (the strange rules of Texas filibusters forbid one from even leaning on something, let alone sitting down or taking a bathroom break), when the Texas legislature comes back for its next session, Republicans are likely to pass this bill or something like it again.

Perhaps they'll be given pause by all the attention garnered by this controversy over the last couple of days. But probably not, because the legislators are true believers. They're not waging war on women's rights because they think it will get them a few extra votes, they're doing it because it's what they believe.

When the House of Representatives in Washington passes a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, it's nothing more than an impotent legislative outburst. Just like the 37 times the House has voted to repeal Obamacare, it knew its bill would never pass the Senate or get the president's signature. Representatives did it to make themselves feel better, maybe blow off some steam. But at the state level, Republicans have real power, which means women and minorities and the poor suffer.

Just this week, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, giving states in the South freedom to enact new restrictions that could enhance the power white voters have at the ballot box. But the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively killed California's Proposition 8, making gay people's lives a little easier, particularly where they're now allowed to marry. The result will likely be that red states will get redder and blue states bluer.

Some people mocked Barack Obama for arguing in 2008 that he could bring Republicans and Democrats together to transcend party divisions.

What most forget is that George W. Bush made exactly the same promise in 2000 ("I don't have enemies to fight," he said in his convention speech. "And I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."). Bill Clinton said the same thing in 1992. None of them succeeded, and it doesn't seem like that unity is in the offing any time soon.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT