As expected, not one Republican voted to allow the voting rights bill come up for debate in the Senate.
Democrats’ months-long drive for muscular new federal voting rights legislation hit a new roadblock Wednesday, with options for progress dwindling as Senate Republicans remained united in blocking debate on the issue.
Outwardly, key lawmakers and advocates have continued to elevate the political stakes, calling federal legislation essential to protecting American democracy from the efforts of Republican state legislatures and election officials to restrict voting access following former president Donald Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.
But the realities of the Senate — with a razor-thin Democratic majority and a united Republican minority empowered by the long-standing filibuster rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority to advance most legislation — continue to make progress difficult and wholly dependent on the willingness of key Democratic senators to change their views on modifying the Senate’s rules.
Wednesday’s vote, which would have paved the way for a floor debate on voting rights, failed 51 to 49, with 60 votes needed to advance the legislation. For procedural reasons, Schumer joined all 50 Republicans in voting no.
The vote was meant, in part, to demonstrate the depth of the Republican opposition to one of the holdouts over changing the filibuster rule, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who played a leading role in crafting a narrower alternative to the sprawling bill that Senate Republicans blocked in June.
On Tuesday night, independent Senator Angus King of Maine took to the floor of the Senate to plead for the voting-rights bill. King, who in the shebeen is known as The Mustache of Righteousness, put the issue into stark relief.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we are at a hinge of history, that circumstances have thrust us—those of us in this body—into a moment when the fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance. We are the heirs—and trustees—of a tradition that goes back to Jefferson and Lincoln, to Webster, Madison, Margaret Chase Smith, and, yes, our friend John McCain. All were partisans in one way or the other, but all shared an overriding commitment to the idea that animates the American experiment, the idea that our government is of, by, and for the people, all the people. Now is the moment to reach beyond region, beyond party, beyond self, to save and reinvigorate the sputtering flame of that idea.
Yes, democracy is an anomaly in world history and what we have is fragile; it rests upon the Constitution and laws to be sure, but it rests even more so on the trust our people place in our democratic system—and in us.
Listening to King, I thought I was listening to the aging Rep. John Quincy Adams, railing against the “gag rule” that prevented the House of Representatives from hearing petitions that mentioned slavery. Bad things result when legislatures in a republic deem issues too dangerous to talk about.
Make no mistake. There is no point in investigating—or even condemning—the events of January 6, or the Big Lie, if you’re not willing to confront the greater threat to democracy being mounted in dozens of states. This effort inevitably will result in a Trumpian president who will not trip over his own shoelaces. But the Republicans in the Senate, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, chose not even to debate the issue. They’re all still in the storage closet, patting each other on the back.
So the next step has to be a change in the Senate rules to modify the filibuster. That would pave the way to pass the bill, but it comes with the real danger that when the Republicans inevitably regain the majority, they will whoop through all sorts of mischief should the shit really hit the fan and we get a Trump-like president who can actually speak in full sentences. Not to put too cynical point on it, I wonder if perhaps the Republicans are doing this on purpose, not for the sake of denying voting rights to minorities (that’s just icing on the cake), but to lure the Democrats into changing the filibuster. Is it worth it?
Frankly, yes it is. Democracy is not something to be left in the hands of ten senators.