When the Senate returns to work next week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised quick action on voting rights and tackling, one way or another, the filibuster. When he brings up the voting rights legislation Republicans have already blocked numerous times and they do it again, he told fellow Democrats, the body would “consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation.”
That means changing the filibuster. As of a few weeks ago, there are just two Democrats, by The Washington Post’s review of their recent comments, continuing to resist saving the country by getting rid of the Jim Crow filibuster. Those two: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. There’re 11 of them who haven’t wholeheartedly endorsed the idea, but now are “open” to it. One of those includes Maine independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats. King just clarified his stance, telling the Portland Press Herald: “We are in a moment when democracy is in danger, when autocracy is on the march around the world.”
“I am very reluctant to make any change, but I draw the line at democracy itself,” King said. “If we were having a debate about a policy issue I wouldn’t be engaged in this discussion. But what is going on now in the country is to me structure, not policy, and if we allow the structure of our democracy to be modified to the point where democracy itself is diminished, we’re sunk.” He’s serious about this.
“Our system is an anomaly in human history—the norm is authoritarians, kings and pharaohs and we are seeing (democracy) backsliding into authoritarianism before our eyes.
The idea that it can’t happen here—that’s just not so, and that’s just what’s worrying me,” King added. “We have a lot of people who are just not committed to the idea of democracy.”
That’s a conversation he needs to have with his “moderate” colleagues. As of a couple of weeks ago, neither were showing any willingness to budge on the filibuster, even for voting rights. That’s backsliding for Manchin who had previously demonstrated a smidgen of flexibility on the issue. But in that same Sunday Fox News interview in which he attempted to kill President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, Manchin reversed himself and ruled out a filibuster reform.
He lied to do it, too. He said that “there’s been rule changes, but there’s never been a change with a filibuster, the rights of the minority” in the Senate. There have been 161 carve-outs for the filibuster in the history of the Senate, and that’s just part of the changes. The filibuster rules have been changed repeatedly. In fact, the filibuster wasn’t even in the Senate’s rules until Vice President Aaron Burr ruined things in 1806 and modified the original rules. In 1917, the Senate passed a new rule on filibusters allowing them to be broken with a two-thirds majority vote, and after decades of Jim Crow abuses from white supremacist senators, that was modified to a 60-vote threshold.
Not that anyone expects Manchin to actually know a goddamned thing about what he’s opining on. Or to work in good faith with his colleagues. “I made no commitments or promises on that,” he told Fox, speaking about the filibuster. “I am working on trying to make the Senate work better, bringing bills to the floor, amending them having debates understanding, being transparent to the public.” He certainly led his colleagues who have been working with him for months on a solution to protecting voting rights to believe that he would help.
Then there’s Sinema. She told Politico back on Dec. 15 that she wouldn’t consider a rules change for voting rights. Well, she had her spokesperson do it since she rarely deigns to grace anyone with her actual presence, saying that she “continues to support the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans’ confidence in our government.” That’s her schtick, that the Republicans will probably just get the majority back and that they’d undo all those reforms.
“Senator Sinema has asked those who want to weaken or eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation which she supports if it would be good for our country to do so,” her spokesperson said, warning that legislation could be “rescinded in a few years and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law, nationwide restrictions on vote-by-mail, or other voting restrictions currently passing in some states extended nationwide.”
Never mind that if Democrats pass their voting rights reforms to secure the 2022 and subsequent elections, Democrats could hold the majority and protect democracy. Like Manchin, Sinema is just making up shit to justify acting like a shit.
The comments from the two might be why President Biden strongly endorsed a voting rights carve-out from the filibuster last week. In the most definitive statement he’s yet made on the issue, Biden told ABC News: “If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster.”
It’s also why Schumer was particularly pointed in that pre-Christmas letter he sent to his colleagues. “I believe our constituents deserve to know which senators choose to hide behind ill-conceived and abused rules and which senators prefer to restore Senate floor procedures to better align with the founders’ intentions,” he wrote. He was also just a little bit pointed about Manchin’s penchant for searching out television cameras to make his pronouncements instead of talking to his colleagues. He promised floor votes so that “every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”
Manchin and Sinema have pretty much gone dark since Christmas, so how they have responded to Schumer’s and Biden’s remarks isn’t public. They’ll have a chance soon enough to let us all know.