During last night's latest doomed effort to pass critical voting rights legislation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Republicans a sweetheart of a deal: If Republicans would let Democrats pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Democrats would agree to simple majority votes on almost 20 bills Republicans have placed on the Senate calendar.

Schumer said on the Senate floor that "We Democrats aren't afraid of these votes.” Maybe they should be a little afraid. The bills were part of McConnell’s nightmare scenario for Democrats if they weakened the filibuster. In addition to attacks on abortion rights and the environment, there are bills proposing mandatory detention for illegal immigrants who commit “serious” crimes and funding of that dumb ass border WALL.

Democrats have the majority right now, but you never know what Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will do in a pinch. Some of the bills could actually pass. But morally, Schumer's correct: Majority rule is more democratic than white minority rule, which is what they had in apartheid South Africa.


Mitch McConnell wasn’t interested. He rejected Schumer’s offer without even bothering to explain himself, which is how democracy rolls in the “the world's greatest deliberative body.” McConnell has shamelessly claimed that Democrats are promoting a “big lie” about voting rights, which Republicans have attacked at the state level over the past year. Last week, McConnell said: “This Big Lie —that democracy is dying because Democrats sometimes lose elections — is a completely astro-turfed sense of crisis. The emperor has no clothes.”

He went on: “No party that would trash the Senate’s legislative traditions can be trusted to seize control over election laws across America. Nobody who is this desperate to take over our democracy on a one-party basis can be allowed to do it.”

We repeat: Republicans are the ones taking over democracy on a one-party basis. Democrats just want to stop the steal. McConnell deliberately refers to the Senate’s “legislative traditions,” because Republicans voted to nuke the filibuster in 2017 so they could confirm Neil Gorsuch with a threadbare majority (and later Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett).

But McConnell’s appeal to Senate tradition likely has an audience of two idiots: Manchin and Sinema have stated repeatedly they won’t help kill the filibuster, so Schumer’s threats to change Senate rules in service of democracy are only so much noise. Democrats have tried reasoning with Manchin and Sinema, but that’s a pointless endeavor. There’s no evidence that they listen to anyone but their donors.



Manchin specifically shared folk tales Monday about the filibuster and how it apparently once chopped down a cherry tree. He said: "The tradition of the Senate here in 232 years now ... we need to be very cautious what we do ... That's what we've always had for 232 years. That's what makes us different than any place else in the world.”

What makes America special is probably every citizen’s right to vote in free and fair elections, a proposition that Republicans have openly rejected. Manchin is also flat-out wrong that the filibuster is a 232-year Senate tradition. It’s found nowhere in the Constitution, and James Madison himself warned against a supermajority requirement for passing legislation: “In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.”

Broadway star Alexander Hamilton also dismissed a routine supermajority system:

[W]hat at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. Congress, from the nonattendance of a few States, have been frequently in the situation of a Polish diet, where a single VOTE has been sufficient to put a stop to all their movements. …

As attorney Max Kennerly noted on Twitter, Manchin is protecting a Senate “tradition” that didn’t exist until 1975, and it’s been subject to hundreds of exceptions, including last month when a carve out was allowed so Democrats could raise the debt ceiling without Republican support.

But maybe Manchin is the dumbest man alive and genuinely believes his nonsense. Appeals to “tradition” hardly justifies preserving what former President Barack Obama rightly called a “Jim Crow relic” consistently used to oppose civil rights. Manchin and Sinema remain McConnell’s most useful idiots.

[New York Magazine / Vanity Fair]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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