Killing the Filibuster is Democrats’ One and Only Play
The protection of voting rights is essential to a functioning democracy (or democratic republic, if you prefer), but the GOP just wouldn’t be the GOP if they let facts get in the way of some good ole’ obstruction.
The Senate vote Tuesday determined whether the chamber could proceed with debate on the For the People Act voting rights bill. Note: It was not a formal vote to approve or reject the bill itself. Every single Democrat voted for and and every single Republican voted against the move to floor debate. Using the tired filibuster play, the GOP, led by the infamous legislative grim reaper, drew a red line over even discussing the bill’s merits.
But why would they want constructive public discussion and opportunity to introduce amendments when they can instead pump their base for fundraising cash off propaganda about the Democrats’ “power grab”? God forbid they acknowledge that they’re not the party in power and they don’t indeed represent the majority — the same (bipartisan) majority that supports most of the bill’s measures when party cues are omitted from polling questions.
People on both sides of the spectrum are pretty positive about things like requiring nonpartisan redistricting commissions (i.e., doing away with gerrymandering for political advantage), 15-day early voting periods for federal elections, automatic and same-day voter registration and a vote-by-mail option for all eligible voters. A historic sticking point has been the voter ID requirement, which civil rights experts point out requires fee payment and equates to a “poll tax” made super popular in the Jim Crow era. But even that was on the table as a compromise to appease Democrat-by-name-only Sen. Joe Manchin.
Much of the publicized objection came in the form of a lie about how automatic voter registration works, with Republicans claiming illegal immigrants would be given voting access by the millions. The reality is what we call the Motor Voter program in California is already mirrored as regular practice in several states, where people are asked if they want to register to vote when engaged in vehicle registration and licensing processes. Oregon was the first state in January of 2016 to drop the question, but it was not the last. What the GOP pearl-clutchers fail to mention is that it is not the DMV (or other state variations of vehicle bureaucracy hellscapes) that actually issues voter registration.
As I responded in the simplest way possible to an ill-informed Twitter user Tuesday, and according to a Politifact debunk of the illegal immigrant voting claim:
“The DMV does not actually ‘register’ anyone to vote, it just forwards the information to the local elections agencies and they are obligated under federal law to verify citizenship eligibility. This bill does not change that law.’
The Republicans lose face when facts are applied to arguments against easing voter access, but integrity and accuracy haven’t really been their calling cards of late. The truth is they know they tend to lose when voter turnout is high and so they turn to suppression and disinformation measures in order to avoid the losing, We’re watching this play out in real time with more than 400 voter suppression bills floating around various state legislatures, all initiated after Donald Trump handily lost in 2020. Tapping into the false stolen election narrative, state-level Republicans seized the opportunity to push election “security” laws with a promise to fix something that was never really broken by restricting who can vote how and when, whether they can accept water bottles in polling lines and giving power to the losing party to essentially refuse results.
What was that about a power grab?
Still, there’s a much bigger picture here and the GOP is notoriously better at playing the long game than their progressive peers. Passing a bunch of restrictive state voting laws and stalling federal voter protection bills is just one piece of the pie. The red meat in this scenario is the filibuster itself. With Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema vowing to keep the filibuster in place, the GOP knows it can continue obstructing every vital piece of Democrat-driven legislation, making Biden’s administration look fruitless. Voters don’t have much patience for not getting things done, and come the 2022 midterms, that lack of progress on meaningful agenda items will likely take its toll at the ballot box and ensure Republicans regain control of Congress.
The only way Democrats can make good on the mandate they were given is to kill the filibuster, or at least restore it to its original form where senators must speak and hold literal court. Sure, there’s risk Republicans will abuse the newfound power next time around, but not killing it now almost guarantees that moment comes sooner than later and Dems will have little to show for all the ‘ethical’ posturing.