It’s been a very strange day for Democrats in the Senate. There’s positive news, but first, some context.
First, the party’s leadership acceded to Joe Manchin’s demand that they better “target” stimulus checks. As a result, they lowered the phase-out on the American Recovery Act payments to the point that 17 million people who received a second stimulus check from Donald Trump will not receive any checks from Joe Biden. The decision has drawn outrage for the damage it will cause and for how much the Democratic Party’s agenda is being held hostage by Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and likely a few other conservative Dems’ whims.
That last part — the presumption that other Democratic senators also quietly support keeping the filibuster in place — has been a big part of the political calculus surrounding the issue. Simply put, the fewer senators that support the filibuster, the more pressure that will be placed on Manchin and Sinema to cave on the matter.
And this afternoon, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a moderate who has often tangled with the progressive wing of the party, came out unequivocally for killing the filibuster:
“I would get rid of the filibuster,” Klobuchar says. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill.”
In the past, Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, has indicated she was open to eliminating the filibuster, but these comments to Mother Jones are her most definitive statement to date. Though her Democratic colleagues Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they would not support abolishing the filibuster, Klobuchar notes that the spread of new GOP anti-voting bills boosts the need for Democrats to enact HR 1—and that increases the pressure to end or alter the Senate filibuster.
“We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote and you just can’t let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate,” she says.
Again, this is huge. Klobuchar doesn’t make big pronouncements like this without checking in with her fellow moderates. She is a consensus-builder more than anything else. And her decision to speak out on the filibuster, not in support of progressive economic policy but HR 1 and desperately needed reforms to save democracy, speaks to the fact that the moderates in the party are increasingly aware that their very survival is at stake.
Unfortunately, Sinema and Manchin are still not there on the filibuster. I covered what Manchin said a few days ago, but today, we have more evidence of Sinema’s continued recalcitrance on the subject. As expected, it is based on very cynical claims:
“I have long said that I oppose eliminating the filibuster for vote son legislation. Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it’s meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans. Therefore, I support the 60-vote threshold for all Senate actions. Debates on bills should be a bipartisan process that takes into account the views of all Americans, not just those of one political party. Regardless of the party in control of the Senate, respecting the opinions of senators from the minority party will result in better, commonsense legislation.
This is downright silly — maybe if there’s an active and engaged minority party, the 60-vote rule can be used to create more balanced legislation, but right now, Republicans are back in their blow-it-all-up stance. They are doing exactly what they did under Obama: Nothing. They refuse to compromise or participate. They only want to stop any and all legislation in its tracks. That means no minimum wage increase at all, no climate change plan, and certainly no voting rights reform.
Joe Biden is said to believe that a bit of Republican support for some of his nominees suggests that bipartisanship is possible, but the reality is that because they only need 50 votes to pass, Republicans won’t have an impact on them either way so long as Democrats stick together. Their willingness to vote for those nominees stems from the lack of filibuster. If they know legislation is going to pass, they might actually try to get involved. Plus, it’s not as if they’re being all that helpful — they’re delaying Merrick Garland’s confirmation until next week.
Simply put, if Democrats don’t kill the filibuster, it’ll kill their chances to be a national political party. Gerrymandering and voter suppression will kill them in swing states and come 2030, Republicans will control those states with such an iron fist, they’ll go ahead and eliminate any nascent Democratic movement with more redistricting and voter suppression.
Just look at what’s happening in Georgia and, crucially, the Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case of overly restrictive voting laws in Arizona that had been struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. At stake is what remains of the Voting Rights Act, in particular Section 2, which prohibits “voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act.”
In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with Jim Crow voting histories to pre-clear election law changes with the Department of Justice. His justification? First, that times had changed and racism was solved. Second, he reasoned that Section 2 would continue to protect minority voters, even if it took years of arduous court cases to receive any relief. Now, the 6-3 conservative majority is aiming to pulverize that clause, as well.
Initial reports based on yesterday’s arguments indicate that the Court is likely leaning toward ruling in Arizona’s favor in at least a narrow decision, with lines like this one, from newly installed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a pretty solid tell: “There’s a difficulty that the statutory language and its lack of clarity presents in trying to figure out when something crosses from an inconvenience to a burden.”
So, basically, instead of trying to navigate a slippery slope, they’re suggesting bulldozing the entire thing, even after the Republican lawyer made startling admissions like this one about why the GOP needs to engage in voter suppression:
“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero sum game. And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election.”
This is where we’re at. Republicans are outright admitting that they will cheat (or push the Supreme Court to allow them to cheat) in order to take power. Democrats have a chance to stop them. They just need to use power themselves.
P.S. I have a political newsletter called Progressives Everywhere, which focuses in depth on voting rights, the filibuster, state legislatures, and progressive policy. Every week, you’ll get deep dives on items like progressive ballot initiatives, saving the Supreme Court, the gig economy, and the economics of student debt. I also offer ways for people to get involved in creating progressive change by spotlighting important grassroots groups and voter registration organizations.
It’s free! You can subscribe to the newsletter here!