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Fact Check: Cheri Beasley says she's 'been very clear' about her view on filibuster reform

 Cheri Beasley speaks at an event in October 2021.
Cheri Beasley
Cheri Beasley speaks at an event in October 2021.

In this week's fact check of North Carolina politics, we turn our attention to next year’s U.S Senate race. During a campaign event at Duke University last month, democratic candidate and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley was asked about her position on filibuster reform. In her response, Beasley said she had previously been misquoted on the topic. She added “We need filibuster reform, and I’ve always been very clear about that.” To check that, WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks with Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: First, Paul, what exactly is a filibuster and why are some lawmakers calling for its reform?

Paul Specht: So the filibuster is a tool that can be used in the U.S. Senate, and it's changed over time, a little bit. Famously, it's known as something that any individual senator can do to sort of hold up or delay action on a bill. And historically, they had to do that by speaking without interruption for hours on end. These days, they don't even need to do that. They can simply say they object to a bill under consideration. They let their party leader know that they're doing that. And then in order to end this blockade, this filibuster rule, senators need 60 favorable votes.

That's what makes it so effective if you want to block things, because it's hard to get 60 votes on anything, especially in the Senate as divided as the one we have now where it's 50-50.

Terry: So what kind of filibuster reform do some lawmakers and candidates want?

Specht: It's mostly been Democrats, and they say that, you know, there's an urgent need to restore voting rights. They want to expand voting access, things like absentee ballots and no-excuse (absentee) voting. That's one thing that Cheri Beasley, in particular, brought up saying, Hey, this topic, voting rights is so important that we cannot have any tool standing in the way. It should be important enough to bypass any of these just operational hurdles that have been built into the system.

Some Democrats would like to see the filibuster done away with completely. Other people are saying, you know, maybe it should only be reformed to maybe revert back to its old ways, make it so that you have to stand up there and speak for hours on end to actually make it effective. And others are saying, you know, maybe there should be other carve outs.

Terry: So Beasley said during this campaign event that she had previously been misquoted about her view on the filibuster, that she's in favor of filibuster reform and that she, in her words, has always been very clear about that. Has she?

Specht: We didn't think so. You know, when we started back in May, when she interviewed with WFAE, she was asked whether she would eliminate the filibuster in order to pass H.R. 1, which is a voting rights bill. And she said, I am glad to take a look at it. She went on to say that there should be no barriers to passing that, but didn't really commit to change there.

Later, in June, speaking with WXII TV, they again asked her, "Would you vote to end the filibuster just to pass H.R. 1, that voting rights bill?" She said, "I would certainly think about the relevancy of it.".

There are multiple instances where she just hesitated to take a position on this, and as her campaign sort of grew and as time passed, she got a little more specific. Finally, in September, saying that she does want to carve out and would consider broad reforms to the filibuster. And then on Oct. 22, she was in a video forum and said that "we must have filibuster reform." Those are her words. And then on Oct. 28, she came out and said she supports "fully eliminating" the filibuster.

So that's quite evolution there between her interview with WFAE back in May and then Oct. 28, when she came out and said she supports full elimination.

Terry: Now, she said she had been misquoted about her view on filibuster reform. How so?

Specht: When we reached out to her campaign, they said that she was referring to a Daily Beast article. That's a website, and they published a story on Sept. 1 and their headline said "New footage shows North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate lauding filibuster." Lauding the filibuster. And so we looked at the quotes in the story, and they're accurate.

She took issue with that word "laud." She did not think that her comments met the definition. And we looked up the definition. "To laud" means to praise or extoll. We went back and looked at her webinar that she had had where she made these comments about the filibuster. And basically, she just pointed out that it had been used by Democrats to block what they believed was harmful Republican legislation in the past. In other words, she's just pointing out, hey, Republicans are using it to block what we think is good. Democrats have used it in the past to block what we think is bad.

Terry: Now you mentioned where Beasley stands on filibuster reform, that she is for doing away with the filibuster altogether. What are some of her opponents in the Democratic primary saying about filibuster reform? Where do they stand?

Specht: On the Democratic side in this primary, there are several candidates, but there are three top candidates, at least there were until recently. Beasley, who said she would take a look at reform and then recently came out against the filibuster altogether. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, he initially came out and said he wanted to watch and see what Republican leader Mitch McConnell would do in this first year of the Biden presidency. And he told us that he does support fully eliminating the filibuster.

And then the third, until recently, was former legislator Erica Smith. Now, she was the first to say that she fully supported eliminating the filibuster. And so for months now, people have been putting Jackson and Beasley to the test and saying, Hey, Smith supports full elimination, why don't you? But Smith, as of this week, has come out and said she is going to run for Congress, instead. So now what that leaves North Carolina with is the two top candidates for U.S. Senate on the Democratic side, Jackson and Beasley, both want to fully eliminate the filibuster.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim by Cheri Beasley?

Specht: She said, if you'll remember, "we need filibuster reform. I've always been very clear about that." We did not think she was very clear about that. And if you go back and look at her comments, if you read our story, we lay it out very easily in list form. Between May and October, her position evolves, and at times she was even accused of ducking questions by WXII. And so we rated this claim "mostly false."

Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.

Specht: Thank you.

Terry: That's Paul Specht of WRAL. These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesday on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.