It may be July but break out your winter coats. Hell hath frozen over. I agree with Mitch McConnell.
Yesterday, Democrats convened a rare field hearing of the Senate Rules Committee, heading to Georgia to hear from state lawmakers and voting rights activists about how the Peach State’s newly enacted voting laws will disenfranchise Georgians. “This silly stunt is based on the same lie as all the Democrats’ phony hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington DC and beyond,” the Senate Minority Leader said yesterday. While I disagree with McConnell’s assessment of these laws as “moderate” and “mainstream” — indeed, I would categorize them as an assault on our democracy — I agree with him that this hearing was nothing more than a “silly stunt.”
The truth is, Democrats can protect voting rights across this country. They just won’t.
There is no excuse for Democrats not to pass the For the People Act. McConnell sees yesterday’s hearing as a hysterical overreaction. The opposite is true. It is political theatrics meant to bolster their feigned helplessness on voting rights. I can already hear the excuses. “We want to do something about voting rights. See, we even went to Georgia to hear from those affected by these terrible, oppressive laws.”
This is bullcrap. Even if it is razor-thin, Democrats have the majority. The problem isn’t Republican obstruction. The problem is a lack of Democratic nerve.
The great irony here, of course, is that while Republicans are passing restrictive voting laws across the country, it is two Democrats who are sounding the death knell of democracy. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has flat-out refused to entertain any notion of ending the filibuster. Joe Manchin of West Virginia agrees with her and is instead promoting the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, hoping to gain Republican support.
The filibuster, Manchin argued in an op-ed earlier this year, “will force compromises that are not always ideal.” However, he asks rhetorically, isn’t it better than living in an America where “one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?” I mean, sure, but that is why we have elections.
Watch: Senate holds field hearing on Georgia elections law amid voting rights battle
At least, we do for the time being. If Manchin doesn’t get out of the way, I don’t know how much longer that will be true in any meaningful way. As they have repeatedly demonstrated, Republicans have no interest in protecting the right to vote because they know they cannot win if most Americans are allowed to vote. They are an anti-democratic (small-d) party, and Manchin’s attempts at “compromise” are useless to the point of 1850.
If you think Civil War comparisons are melodramatic, listen to that other Joe in Washington. Earlier this month, President Biden delivered a stirring speech, perhaps the finest of his presidency, calling voting rights the “test of our time” and warning that “we are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” I agree with him on this, which is why I am so furious that Democrats are feigning helplessness on the matter.
For let me not mince my words here. Democrats know what needs to be done to protect American democracy. They simply lack the courage to do it.
The filibuster must go, and the For the People Act must be passed, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema be damned.
Biden has the fire in his belly, but his actions are thus far anemic at best. The same is true for Senate Democrats. No excursion to the South, no impassioned speech by the president, no political machinations will change the cold hard truth: we have the numbers, if only we have the will.
“Having the will” includes twisting the arm of the recalcitrant Manchin and his equally obstinate Sinema. Because “bipartisanship,” “filibuster” — these are excuses, and they’re piss-poor ones at that. We have the numbers now.
By going to Georgia, Democrats clearly want to be seen to be doing something to protect voting rights without actually protecting voting rights. The problems of the Georgia law are well-documented by now, meaning there was no reason to go there except to stage a bit of political theater.
That time would be better spent trying to convince senators like Manchin and Sinema to stop standing on precedent and tradition and start acting to protect the right to vote. Instead, Democrats pretend there is nothing they can do, but the truth is they have bound their own hands with the Senate rules — rules they can change if they really want to. And they don’t want to. They are now so concerned with precedent and decorum that the most they’ll do is redecorate the house (or in this case, the Senate) while it burns to the ground.
This sheer lack of action combined with such pointless theater is so insulting that it is offensive. If Democrats won’t even protect our right to vote, they don’t deserve our votes.
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