What Is the Filibuster? A Grid No Dumb Questions Video

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‘No Dumb Questions’: What is the filibuster?

It’s hard to think of many political traditions in the United States that are associated with films. But ask Americans — particularly Americans of a certain age — about the filibuster, and many will immediately think of the 1939 Frank Capra classic, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which Jimmy Stewart played a U.S. senator fighting what he views as a corrupt system, willing to stand and speak in the Senate chamber for as long as it took to get his way. In other words, he filibustered.

What exactly is the filibuster? How did it come to be? And why is it so much more of a hot-button issue in American politics now than it was back in Capra’s time?

Grid Policy Reporter Maggie Severns takes up these questions and more in this week’s installment of the our series “No Dumb Questions.” As Severns says of the filibuster, “technically, it’s the act of blocking the vote,” and it dates to measures taken by Aaron Burr, and then Woodrow Wilson more than a century later. For the rest of the story — including the current drama and controversy surrounding the filibuster, check out Severns’ video. These aren’t “dumb questions” at all; and right now, the answers are particularly important.

More ‘No Dumb Questions’ videos

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Maggie Severns
    Maggie Severns

    Domestic Policy Reporter

    Maggie Severns is a policy reporter for Grid covering complex policy stories and major headlines.

  • Jake Garcia
    Jake Garcia

    Associate Producer, Multimedia

    Jake Garcia is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer for Grid.

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.