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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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.

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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