The Frustration For Democrats Around Election Protection And The Jim Crow Filibuster

Stop! In the name of... by Nancy Ohanian

It's mostly theater but Schumer sent a letter to the Senate Democratic caucus today telling his colleagues that if the Republicans continue to block any and all progress on protecting elections, "the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections." That's a threat (mostly toothless) to reform the filibuster-- to at least carve out a rule to allow for protecting the ill-defined concept of democracy.

The Senate was designed to protect the political rights of the minority in the chamber, through the promise of debate and the opportunity to amend. But over the years, those rights have been warped and contorted to obstruct and embarrass the will of majority-- something our Founders explicitly opposed. The constitution specified what measures demanded a supermajority-- including impeachment or the ratification of treaties. But they explicitly rejected supermajority requirements for legislation, having learned firsthand of such a requirements defects under the Articles of Confederation. The weaponization of rules once meant to short-circuit obstruction have been hijacked to guarantee obstruction.
We must ask ourselves: if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?
We must adapt. The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before. The Senate was designed to evolve and has evolved many times in our history. As former Senator Robert Byrd famously said, Senate Rules “must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.” Put more plainly by Senator Byrd, “Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past.”

As always, at least in this Congress, the problem isn't just GOP stonewalling. It is also 2 conservative Democrats-- DINOs who are more comfortable conspiring with Mitch McConnell than working with other Democrats-- Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. Sinema is an irrational self-promoting publicity hound and happens to be stone cold crazy, so the media tends to focus on Manchin. This morning John Harwood reported for CNN that by refusing to reform the Jim Crow filibuster, Manchin is killing his own election protection bill. Added irony: looking for as conservative a Democrat as he could find, Schumer is entirely responsible for recruiting and financing Sinema's Senate election. She had the single worst voting record of any Democrat in the House, was chair of the very corrupt and very right-wing Blue Dogs and was already showing signs of sociopathic behavior. Now that's come back to bite Schumer in the ass-- not that he's letting that stop him from doing the same thing this year with other miserable Senate candidates, like Conor Lamb (PA), Cheri Beasley (NC) and Val Demings (FL), all three of whom are destined to spend tens of millions of dollars in losing races.

The entire time I was growing up-- and I;'m just slightly younger than Manchin-- the filibuster pretty much meant one thing: protecting racism. Harwood wrote that "As the civil rights movement intensified after World War II, pro-segregation Southern senators made the filibuster their bulwark against proposals to ban 'poll taxes' that impeded voting by Blacks. For two decades beginning in the 1950s, frustrated liberals pressed for rules changes to weaken the filibuster. In 1957, the year Manchin turned 10, their ideas revolved around permitting a majority of senators to end debate after 15 days. Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson... flatly rejected them."

Today, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and nearly the entire Democratic caucus support rules changes. They've floated several options that could take effect if every Democrat supported them.
One would create a specific filibuster exemption for Manchin's bill, which would make Election Day a holiday and establish minimum national standards for mail-in ballots and early voting. A second would create a broader but undefined exemption for bills designed to protect democracy-- a suddenly salient topic after last year's deadly January 6 insurrection.
A third option, which enjoys the most support among Democratic senators, would make filibusters harder to mount and easier to end. Instead of initiating a filibuster by simple declaration, and forcing proponents of action to overcome it, it would require filibustering senators to talk continuously, as popularized by Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
It would guarantee that the minority could offer a specified number of amendments to the legislation at issue. It would let every senator speak on the floor twice. But it would ultimately allow the majority to end debate and force final action with 51 votes, not 60.

Manchin and Sinema, ardent conservatives, each stinking of shameless corruption beyond comprehension, have joined McConnell in opposing any attempt to reform the filibuster. What the two dishonest brokers claim is that "filibusters force Senate majorities to seek bipartisan consensus rather than simply steamroll opponents. But Manchin's inability to attract Republican support for his voting rights bill underscores how, more typically, the filibuster halts action on contentious issues altogether."

Basically, Manchin's Freedom to Vote Act is a severe watering-down of the House-passed For the People Act to which he added some Republican-favored protections from their perspective-- particularly voter IDs. It's a decent, imperfect compromise. Very few Democrats are happy with it but, every one of them will vote for him. So far just one Republican, Lisa Murkowski, will-- which would be fine... if not for the filibuster, which requires 10 Republicans to get on board, not one. According to The Hill, 3 conservative Democrats-- Tim Kaine, Jon Tester and Angus King (I)-- are <>trying to persuade Manchin<> to go along with a carve out to get the bill passed. It looks like a whole lot of nothing or, at most, wheel spinning. And even if they could, that still leave Psycho-Sinema in the driver's seat.