No one wants to hear this-- except Republicans-- but Amherst political science professor Austin Sarat came out and said it out loud in his Hill OpEd, Moderation no virtue in voting rights fight, this morning. Manchin and Sinema are the two most conservative Democrats in the Senate... and with the most in common with the GOP. Both score "F" grades from ProgressivePunch, just like every single Republican in Congress, but each is viewed-- rightly-- by the GOP as the not-so-secret weapons McConnell uses to perpetuate Republican veto power over Biden's agenda. And that agenda includes everything from infrastructure, taxation, Medicare expansion, childcare and drug prices to voting rights and gerrymandering. Manchin and Sinema are blocking everything. Sarat takes on their fight against voting rights, stating bluntly that the fate of American democracy itself-- not to mention the Democratic Party-- rests in their conservative hands.
"Developments last week," he wrote, "add urgency to the call for reforming the filibuster by carving an exception for voting rights legislation. Without such reform, efforts to pass crucial national voting rights legislation are doomed. The best way to protect voting rights, ensure election integrity and prevent Trumpist Republicans from rigging future presidential elections is to pass that legislation... It can only pass if the filibuster is changed."
Manchin and Sinema need to join with other Democratic senators and put the protection of the system of democratic governance above the preservation of senatorial prerogative and procedure. They need to understand that the effort to build bridges to Republicans in the name of political moderation has its limits.
Manchin and Sinema hold out the vain hope that Republicans in the Senate will undergo a sudden conversion and renounce their previously displayed ruthlessness in the pursuit of their partisan interests. They elevate a fantasy of bipartisanship over the need for national action to protect the rights of the voters to participate in free, fair and honest elections.
Manchin says that he refuses to reform the filibuster in order to avoid turning voting rights into a partisan issue. He claims that “Congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”
This is a noble aspiration, but it has no grounding in the reality of what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and what is happening in Republican controlled states across the country. Just last week, when Schumer asked for unanimous consent to allow consideration of three separate voting rights bills, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) objected to each of them.
Sinema is a co-sponsor of The For the People Act, yet she embraces magical thinking in talking about the U.S. Senate-- like Manchin, she refuses to consider any change in the filibuster.
“When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today,” Sinema suggests, “I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules. I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”
Change behavior? What evidence is there to suggest that Republicans will change their behavior?
“The filibuster,” Sinema wrote in a June Washington Post op-ed, “compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles. To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass The For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?”
Moderation? How exactly has the filibuster compelled moderation?
Sinema says ending the filibuster will open the door for further assaults on democracy when Republicans once again take power in the Senate.
But Republicans have shown reverence for the rules only when they want to accomplish a partisan end.
New revelations about former President Trump's determined efforts to pull off a coup d’etat only add urgency to this moment and the need for federal legislation to protect the vote. They show the lengths to which the former president and some of his supporters were willing to go to hang onto power.
We recently learned that the former president apparently worked with a mid-level Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the civil division, on plans to manipulate the Georgia election results. Clark reportedly drafted a five-page letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and state legislative leaders, claiming that the department was “investigating various irregularities” in the presidential contest and saying-- falsely-- that it had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election.”
Others in the Justice Department prevented this letter from being sent, but its chilling contents recommended that the state legislature “convene in special session so that its legislators are in a position to take additional testimony, receive new evidence, and deliberate on the matter.” Clark suggested that an alternative slate of electors-- that is, electors for Trump-- might be accepted by the Congress when it convened on Jan. 6 to tally the certified electoral votes.
What almost happened in Georgia could be staring us in the face in future elections.
Last week, ABC News released the results of a new study of the recent spate of election laws that have been passed by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. That study found that nine states, including battlegrounds like Georgia and Arizona, have enacted laws that will allow partisan interference in the administration of elections and the counting of votes starting with the 2022 election.
Those laws have diminished secretaries of states' authority over elections and shifted aspects of election administration to highly partisan bodies, such as state legislators themselves.
What more evidence do we need that passing the For the People Act is necessary if democracy is to be preserved?
As Sens. Manchin and Sinema take advantage of the respite from their legislative duties, they should recall the admonition of 1964 Republican presidential nominee and former senator from Arizona Barry Goldwater that “Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
I have no idea what kind of relationship either Raphael Warnock or Jon Ossoff has with Manchin and Sinema, if any at all, but perhaps they could try explaining what the Jim Crow voter legislation that the state just instituted means to their tenure in the Senate. Ossoff beat Republican David Perdue by 54,944 votes and Warnock beat Republican Kelly Loeffler by 93,872 votes. Last month alone Georgia has cancelled another 101,217 voter registrations. Simple math, right?
Alan Grayson (FL) and Erica Smith (NC) are both running for the Senate and both favor eliminating the legislative filibuster. This morning, Grayson told me that "Defense of the Senate filibuster, at this point, is simply appeasement of right-wing ideologues like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. It’s making the same mistake over and over again, in the vain hope that the outcome will be something different. How is 2021 different from 1837, when the filibuster was first exploited by the GOP’s great-great-grandparents, the Whigs? In every era, progress has its enemies."
Erica Smith pointed right to one of the tippy-toppy main enemies of progress this era. This afternoon she told me that "Preserving the filibuster is the same thing as essentially handing the Senate right back over to Mitch McConnell. The filibuster does not encourage bipartisanship, it encourages the oppression of Black and Brown communities and of working people. Preserving the filibuster at the expense of our Democracy, and of the actual citizens of this country, is out of touch, offensive, and dangerous. What we need right now is for Democrats to vote like Democrats, not do Republican's bidding for them."