A New Can of Worms

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced criticism for potentially assisting Democrats in eliminating the filibuster. His agreement with Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to ultimately allow Democrats to increase the debt ceiling on a simple majority vote was the subject of criticism due to fears of setting a new precedent. “It’s a terrible idea. Terrible. It would circumvent the filibuster. This is nuking the filibuster,” Sen. Mike Lee told NBC News.

Mr. Lee’s statement is incorrect in terms of the legislative process used. A widespread false equivocation has generated a new narrative. A crucial element is left out of the discussion on the debt ceiling agreement. For Democrats to have proceeded to a one-time simple majority vote, which would allow the increase of the debt ceiling by a specific number, a minimum of 10 Republican votes were ultimately necessary. A filibuster-proof majority voting in favor was still required. Without reaching the 60-vote threshold, there would be no means of advancing to the simple majority vote. This aspect alone separates this procedural tactic from outright eliminating or creating a carve-out for the filibuster. Indeed, it was part of an overall convoluted method to increase the debt ceiling, but the filibuster itself remained untouched. Mr. Lee could have expressed a valid point of concern about how this course of action could eventually reshape precedent.

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The agreement on the debt ceiling has allowed Democrats to employ a deceptive messaging campaign. Democrats have begun utilizing this to legitimize their desire to eliminate outright, reform, or create an issue-based carve out of the filibuster. If it can apply to raising the debt ceiling, why not voting rights? The answer is simple but unhelpful to the cause. Democrats cannot get 10 Republicans to support a simple majority vote on voting rights legislation. But of course, reality does not matter when pursuing an agenda. The false equivocation being propagated is apparent to anyone not willfully blinded by partisan rhetoric.

You will see Democrat Senators such as Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia attempt to equate the two.

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The obvious fallacy of this statement is that Democrats did not raise the debt ceiling alone. Mr. Warnock conveniently leaves out that very relevant piece of the puzzle out. Democrats would not have been about to raise the debt ceiling without the 14 Republicans who allowed the majority only vote to proceed. There would certainly not be 14 Republicans voting in favor to move to a simple majority vote on the Freedom to Vote Act or John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

With Build Back Better on the sidelines for now due to an array of disagreements with Sen. Manchin of West Virginia and other aspects still being worked out. Democrats have brought voting rights legislation to the forefront. Prioritizing an attempt to address what many advocates have said should have been their top priority from the start. Persuading their two primary Democrat holdouts, Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to support reforming or eliminating the filibuster has not succeeded. Ms. Sinema on Wednesday released a statement reaffirming her support for the 60-vote threshold. Meanwhile, Mr. Manchin has said he would like any changes to be bipartisan. “All of my discussions have been with bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats. The rules change should be done to be where we all have input in this rules change because we’re going to have to live with it,” Mr. Manchin said. Mr. Manchin has met with Republicans to discuss smaller bipartisan measures which would be more akin to improving the overall functionality of the Senate.

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Resolving the debt ceiling dilemma may have contributed to a recent change of heart by some Democrats. “We’ve been here almost a year, and we’ve seen enough: It’s time to change the filibuster to protect voting rights,” Democrat Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said in a statement. Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire also recently announced on the Senate floor her support for eliminating the filibuster in the name of passing voting rights legislation.

It certainly appears the recent debt ceiling resolution has at least accelerated these recent turn of events. Though it would be safe to assume even if the debt ceiling increase was smooth sailing, Democrats would have eventually gone down this same road. Undeniably it is now the Democrat calling card and a vehicle for Democrats to drive home their agenda.

Fore and foremost, this is not being done in the name of creating a more functional Democratic Senate. The task at hand for Democrats is to devise a legislative approach easing their ability to pass an agenda item, if not multiple agenda items. Call me cynical, but there would be no mention of voting rights legislation if Democrats held the advantage in gerrymandering or did not see an advantageous method of increasing their support. Never forget there is always an ulterior motive in every piece of legislation without exception.

Image Credit: “December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Obstructing Common Sense

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the longest-serving Republican leader in history. He was first elected to the United States Senate in 1984. Serving in such roles as majority whip, minority leader, and majority leader throughout his political career. However, at 79 years old, he was confronted with another recurrent headache. Not from Democrats, sparring with Democrats is familiar territory, but from within his caucus. Indeed not unfamiliar territory but more complicated.

Congress was tasked with a December 15th deadline to resolve the debt ceiling dispute following a temporary extension in October. After weeks of negotiations and discussions, Mr. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a two-step process to raise the debt ceiling. First, a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority would be required to advance the bill, which would allow for a second vote on increasing the debt ceiling—only requiring a simple majority to pass. Democrats would need to specify an exact amount to raise the debt ceiling. The bill also prevents cuts to Medicare which put many Republicans in a difficult situation.

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The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 222-212 vote. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois was the only Republican who voted in favor.

While Mr. McConnell received intense backlash from his party over the proposal, the debt ceiling standoff ended when the Senate advanced the bill 64-36. 14 Republicans voted to advance the bill exceeding the required 60-vote threshold. The Senate voted 59-35 on the final passage of raising the debt ceiling later the same day, only requiring a simple majority.

Despite the internal strife Mr. McConnell was able to avoid a fiscal and political catastrophe. If common sense were prevalent, raising the debt ceiling would not have required this convoluted process. Instead, Mr. McConnell played a crucial role in starting and ultimately ending this unnecessary debacle.

Republicans attempted to create this transparent facade portraying themselves as fiscally responsible overlords of the United States. Republicans argued that the party in power should be solely responsible for raising the debt ceiling. However, lifting the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. Instead, it allows the Treasury Department to pay for already approved spending. In essence, Republicans were refusing to pay for debts they were, in part, responsible for incurring. Please make no mistake about it Republicans are profligate deficit spenders. There would be no qualms about deficit spending if it benefited their political objectives.

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Mr. McConnell drove home that Democrats would not receive any Republican support in increasing the debt ceiling. Republicans demanded Democrats do so through reconciliation. Republicans were offering to expedite the process but vowed not to vote in favor. 46 Senate Republicans signed a pledge to abstain from increasing the debt ceiling.

Mr. McConnell eventually had an awakening and realized this childish acrimony had the potential to backfire. Forcing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own was a flawed tactic from the onset. It would have harmed Republican 2022 electoral hopes. No one in their right mind would have viewed this as Republicans doing the right thing for the country’s fiscal stability. On the contrary, it would have brightened a bleak midterm outlook for Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, would have gained a political advantage of being seen as the party who refused to play politics on an issue that should be without ideologically driven obstruction. Nothing positive comes out of a forced default or a down to the wire politically driven drama for Republicans. Even if I attempted to play devil’s advocate, I could find no justification. Mr. McConnell must have come to the same conclusion.

Unlike Donald Trump, Mr. McConnell is politically savvy. Obstructing Democrats is, for the most part, a unified effort amongst Republicans, and Mr. McConnell has made a career in doing so. Knowing when to back off is a lesson that more Republicans would benefit from learning. On Build Back Better utilize every avenue and maneuver available to block its passage. That’s politics and is fair game in the arena of politics. On the debt ceiling? Never.

Image Credit: “Mitch McConnell” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Civility is Gone

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia appeared frustrated; some argue he was just tired during Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s lambasting of Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday. Mr. Schumer’s comments followed a successful vote to temporarily increase the federal government’s $28.4 trillion debt limit. While only a temporary solution, it staved off a potential default. It gave lawmakers until early December to come up with a more long-term solution.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate at this time, and we had a talk about that,” Mr. Manchin told reporters as he was leaving the capital. “Civility is gone,” acknowledging both sides have been guilty.

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Civility has long been going out of style, and it is nearing the brink of extinction. Mr. Manchin suggests he is going to try to bring it back. He finds himself stranded on a deserted island. His stated devotion to compromise and bipartisanship has been a consistent theme but alienates the majority of his Democrat colleagues. No other Democrat, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has angered Democrats in her own right, is as isolated as Mr. Manchin. He is an outlier in a party that has adopted a completely different platform for better or worse.

The days of either party embracing a big tent mentality are long gone. There is no big tent in the Democrat or Republican Party. They both may operate under the guise of such a notion, even that is debatable, but it is a farce. Fringe is in. Not only in terms of ideology but approach.

People talk today as if Democrats and Republicans should not be friendly or interact civilly. Our politics has devolved beyond reason. Political party affiliations and ideological differences are akin to aligning with a U.S. adversary amid a war. How frightening is that? I want to think that this is just the most vocal opposition representing a fraction of overall voters. There is anger when a politician even engages in social events with another of a different party. How is this reasonable in a supposed civilized society?

Mr. Manchin receives both criticism and encouragement for his approach. Some suggest whether, in support or disgust, he should switch his party affiliation. That would be a nightmare scenario for Democrats as they would lose their Senate majority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the self-proclaimed grim reaper of Democrat legislation, would reassume the role of Senate Majority Leader. For Republicans, it would give them the ability to put a halt to President Biden’s agenda. It would also negatively impact Democrat’s ability to confirm a Biden nominee to the Supreme Court, should a vacancy open up.

While Mr. Manchin would receive a warm welcome on that front, it would not take long for him to be termed in a derogatory fashion a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Ask Republican Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski how that works. The second Mr. Manchin speaks out against a proposal or policy; many Republicans will be up in arms with furious condemnation. No better, maybe even worse, than how progressives approach Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema presently. Also, Mr. Manchin has more influence over policy, providing a crucial vote as a Democrat rather than a Republican. As a Republican, he would have no means of inspiring constructive dialogue. The only objective among Republicans would be to block the legislative agenda of Democrats. Mr. Manchin has also stated in a CSPAN Newsmakers interview in 2019 that he could not become a Republican because of two key issues, taxes and healthcare.

Unless Republicans embrace some form of moderation and a willingness to listen to and consider dissenting voices, you will not see Manchin becoming an independent and caucusing with Republicans. Trading the internal animosity of his current party for the inevitable future animosity of the other party is not a worthwhile trade-off. One potential incentive is it would certainly increase his chances of reelection in 2024.

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I believe the only way Mr. Manchin would consider such a drastic move is if Democrats were idiotic enough to strip him of his chairmanship and attempt to punish him unless he goes along at gunpoint. I do not believe Democrats would be that foolish and petty.

Mr. McConnell has received angst from his party for bending on his demand that Democrats utilize reconciliation to lift the debt ceiling. A move partly to alleviate the pressure on Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema to support a filibuster carve out for the debt ceiling. Fearing it would eventually result in the filibuster being reformed or eliminated by Democrats. My question is, why start down this contentious and potentially dangerous path? The backlash and potential to backfire were evident before even starting. Increase the debt ceiling without dramatics and eliminate an unnecessary headache. Instead, Mr. McConnell now has egg on his face from both directions. It should never have been allowed to become a game of who will blink first.

Mr. Manchin is correct; there will not be a default in the end. There will be an agreement of some sort in the future. It is far too important and not a simple policy debate. There is no question this country has a severe spending problem, though it is rather convenient to shine a light on it when in opposition but dismiss fiscal restraint when in power. Holding the debt ceiling hostage is no way to handle it. It is a sad state of affairs when addressing the full faith and credit of the United States government cannot be done in a civilized matter.

Image Credit: “Senator Joe Manchin (WV)” by Third Way is licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Complicit Uniformity

What happened to the party of individualism and freedom? Freedom of expression is no longer acceptable if it does not fall precisely into said parameters. Is former President Donald Trump now this untouchable figure who, if you dare go against, you will be subject to condemnation? Do people with differing points of view need to be relegated to some derogatory status? Is worshiping at the altar of Mr. Trump now the future of conservatism? Is he the new Ronald Reagan? If I had to guess the answer to all those questions, the evidence points to overwhelmingly yes. 

Ronald Reagan has long been a role model to not only conservatives but Republicans in general. The vast majority of the party respected him, and the country did to some degree. Of course, like any politician, Mr. Reagan had his detractors. But consider this. Mr. Reagan in 1984 won 49 of 50 states. With an electoral college count of 525-13. The likelihood is we will never see that kind of landslide victory again. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan certainly earned the respect of a large portion of the country and earned his high regard among Republicans today. 

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Compare that to Donald Trump. If you were neutral on or uncertain about Mr. Trump before his 2016 presidential election victory, odds are you detested him after his first term. He did nothing to convince or at least earn some degree of respect from his detractors. Mr. Trump’s insecurities, erratic behaviors, and dumbfounding statements underscore why he became a one-term president and has an ever-growing number of Republican detractors. President Biden did not win on the policy details of his platform. Mr. Trump committed political suicide. 

Conservatives need to accept that a Trump-like figure, or any conservative for that matter, will not win in states like Maryland and Massachusetts. Both presently have Republican governors because they are moderates. Republican moderates who refuse to fall in line are, in a derogative sense, cast as liberals. Unfortunately, moderate has become a dirty word for both Democrats and Republicans. Purity tests are not a winning strategy in a diverse country with different beliefs and ideals. A conservative Republican will not win in deep-blue Maryland. Just like a progressive Democrat will not succeed in deep-red West Virginia.

In Wyoming, challenging Rep. Liz Cheney in a Republican primary is feasible. Wyoming is a very red state where Trump performed exceptionally well in 2020. So the likelihood of a Trump-endorsed candidate winning a Republican primary against Ms. Cheney is in the likely realm of possibilities. Wyoming is not America, though. One size never fits all. It is no coincidence that Democrats attempt to paint all Republicans as Trump acolytes because it has successfully become a negative connotation. In Virginia’s governor race, Glenn Youngkin is trying to walk a fine line of not alienating Mr. Trump’s loyal supporters, Mr. Trump has endorsed Mr. Youngkin, and at the same time not alienating Republicans and independents who do not care for Mr. Trump.

Republicans need to shed this identity of being solely the party of Mr. Trump. If it is a faction within the party, for better or worse, so be it. People have the right to support who they wish, but one man this divisive cannot have such a firm grasp on the direction of the Republican Party and expect to win elections. It does not only apply to elected officials who pander but voters. The key to politics is winning elections. Electoral victories require flexibility in terms of appealing to a specific voter base.

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Ultimately, I do not believe Mr. Trump’s approach will lead to much electoral success outside of conservative-safe districts and certainly not the presidency. Complicating the matter is a refusal by too many Republicans to acknowledge Mr. Trump’s defeat in 2020. Not only is it detrimental but inexcusable. Mr. Trump may as well be the ringmaster at a three-ring circus with suggestions of seeking his third term.

The events of January 6th only exacerbated an already difficult situation. Ms. Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, both Republicans, were appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a new select committee on the violent January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Another burden weighing down on Mr. Trump’s ability to effectively lead Republicans. Even if it was nothing more than his rhetoric roiling up a passionate crowd. Mr. Trump cannot withhold accepting some degree of responsibility.

Mr. Trump has strong support among his base but divides other Republicans and alienates independents to an unacceptable extent. There are Republicans who voted Democrat in the 2020 presidential election because they were so disgusted with Mr. Trump. John Kasich admitted in advance that he would vote for Joe Biden. One Republican wrote in a dead former president. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan voted for Ronald Reagan. Former President George W. Bush wrote in Condoleezza Rice.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Republicans would hold the legacy of Mr. Trump’s presidency on a pedestal.

Image Credit: “Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Democracy of Convenience

All of a sudden, a demand for majoritarian democracy is in full throttle. The legislative filibuster has conveniently become the boogie man for most Democrats. They reference Jim Crow and the legislative filibuster’s history of obstructing civil rights legislation as their justification. If that is where the moral objection lies, why is it selectively and opportunistically called for by Democrats? Where were these calls by Democrats during the Trump administration? Was it not a Jim Crow relic in 2017? Were Republicans and Democrats alike racists for not abolishing it then?

If Democrats did not control the Senate, there would not be a single suggestion of abolishing or even reforming the filibuster. The desire to do so is now solely based on possessing a technical majority in a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. Ideally, enabling Democrats to push aside Republicans and focus deliberation and debate exclusively among Democrats. 

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letter to Senate leadership in 2017 requested then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to preserve the 60-vote legislative threshold for legislation, also known as the legislative filibuster. U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Chris Coons of Delaware lead the charge on the effort. The letter was endorsed by 61 Senators including prominent advocates of abolishing the filibuster presently, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to name a few. So what could have possibly changed?

In 2013 Harry Reid launched the opening salvo in the war against the filibuster to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for confirming federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments. Advancing to confirmation would now only require a simple majority vote. Supreme Court nominations were unaffected. That was until Mr. McConnell decided to fight fire with fire and eliminate the 60-vote threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominations.  

Mr. McConnell has been far from innocent in his contributions to chipping away at the filibuster, but it is worth noting his opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster in 2017. Despite Then-President Trump’s persistent calls to do so, Mr. McConnell ultimately refused.

Mr. Trump frequently attacks Mr. McConnell’s intelligence during various interviews for upholding the legislative filibuster, but Trump’s hypocrisy looms large on his credibility.

Mr. Trump’s opportunistic disdain for the filibuster is a common bond shared with most Democrats. So when will Mr. Trump eventually host his abolish the filibuster rally? I am sure all his loyal supporters will be on board when it serves their immediate interests. In June, Trump praised Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for his opposition to eliminating the filibuster as “doing the right thing” in an interview with Fox Business. However, maintaining consistency is unnecessary as politics has long ceased to be one of authenticity. Opportunity supersedes principle and diminishes sincerity.

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Only if there was an ounce of sincerity behind advocating abolishing the filibuster, it is no coincidence that it is only a relevant issue when convenient. It is not a genuinely held belief that the objective is to create a more democratic governing process—nothing more than a strategic maneuver to avoid political roadblocks to accomplish a partisan agenda. The at the moment, Armageddon, if we do not act immediately routine, is transparent to anyone willing to open their eyes. It is understandable to be frustrated by political obstruction and posturing while attempting to accomplish a promised agenda, but the lack of consistency is nothing short of hypocrisy. Political expediency is never a justification for altering Senate protocol.

Assuming the legislative filibuster is not abolished beforehand, if Democrats lose control of the Senate following the 2022 midterm elections, all this talk about abolishing the filibuster disappears. Its ties to obstruction and Jim Crow will be a distant memory. While Mr. Schumer has not blatantly endorsed abolishing the filibuster, he has stated nothing is off the table. Abolishing the filibuster will not only be off the table in 2023 but hidden in the attic.

Image Credit: “US Capitol” by keithreifsnyder is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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