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“Obstructionism” is the act of deliberately stalling, delaying, or preventing legislation from being passed.

It is a tactic used to delay, alter, or prevent specific political outcomes, and it can be employed through various means and for different motives.

Understanding obstructionism requires delving into its manifestations, underlying reasons, impacts, and critiques.

It has a negative connotation, as politicians do not want to be seen as preventing progress.

Obstructionism may involve using procedural rules to delay the progress of legislation, such as filibustering, requesting excessive amendments, or repeatedly calling for votes and debates on trivial matters.

It can also include attempts to hinder or delay the appointment of officials, judges, or other key positions by withholding approval or utilizing various procedural tactics.

Sometimes, obstructionism manifests in efforts to impede or derail investigations by refusing to cooperate, providing misinformation, or invoking privileges to withhold information.

Obstructionist politicians are typically either of a party with control of one branch or house of a legislature, or part of a minority party with enough of a plurality to prevent legislation — like through a filibuster.

Obstructionism is often a useful tool for an opposition party that otherwise doesn’t have much political power.

Politico explains:

Still, for the most part, obstructionism worked. Americans always tell pollsters they want politicians to work together, but as Washington Democrats decide how to approach the Trump era from the minority, they will be keenly aware that the Republican Party’s decision to throw sand in the gears of government throughout the Obama era helped the Republican Party wrest unified control of that government.

Obstructionism can result in gridlock, where the legislative process grinds to a halt, and key functions of government are stymied.

This can undermine the ability of the government to respond to urgent matters and diminish public trust in political institutions.

Obstructionist tactics may change political dynamics by forcing compromises, highlighting particular issues, or shaping public perceptions of political actors and parties.

Use of “obstructionism” in a sentence:

  • The minority party’s obstructionism in the Senate led to a protracted stalemate over the budget, resulting in a government shutdown that frustrated both politicians and the public.
  • Critics accused the mayor of obstructionism when she repeatedly blocked city council initiatives, creating a divide that hampered progress on key local issues.
  • The political analyst on the nightly news explained that the current wave of obstructionism in Congress might be a calculated strategy to gain leverage in upcoming negotiations, but warned that it could backfire by eroding public trust in the legislative process.