Bill would restore voting rights to felons, require states to provide mail-in voting
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) on Monday threatened to scrap the upper chamber’s filibuster to pass Democrats’ controversial election reform bill.
Schumer said the Senate will “debate and consider changes” to Senate procedures by Jan. 17 to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, saying Republicans have exploited the rule to “embarrass the will of majority” and block Democrats’ so-called voting rights legislation.
“In June, August, October, and once more in November, Republicans weaponized arcane Senate rules to prevent even a simple debate on how to protect our democracy,” Schumer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “We must adapt. The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before.”
Schumer’s letter comes as the Freedom to Vote Act languishes in the Senate amid staunch Republican opposition. Without a change to Senate rules, Democrats would need 10 Republicans to back their legislation—a number they have thus far failed to reach.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema’s (D., Ariz.) opposition to eliminating the filibuster has stymied previous efforts to alter Senate voting procedures. A group of Democratic senators, however, have in recent weeks tried to persuade the two lawmakers to back reforms that would weaken the vote threshold, according to Politico.
The Democrats’ election reform bill would restore voting rights to convicted felons, require states to offer mail-in voting, and mandate two weeks of early voting, among other measures. Republicans have long opposed the legislation, calling it a partisan power grab.
“This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of the political system,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in March 2021.
At the end of the day, senators care more about protecting themselves and their colleagues from unpredictable, inconvenient floor votes than they do about passing legislation.
Official Washington’s conventional wisdom about the Senate filibuster is a fairy tale. It is utterly unmoored from the choices being made by individual senators, party caucuses, and the body as a whole. Every person who has ever told you that the mean, nasty, outdated legislative filibuster is the source of Senate gridlock and the obstacle to common-sense legislating in Congress has either swallowed, or is peddling, a lie.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post this week, Ethics and Public Policy Center scholar Henry Olsen suggests requiring filibusters to be at least nominally bipartisan as a way of solving the familiar filibuster “problem.” What follows is not a fisking of Olsen, who is a good guy and perhaps the best electoral analyst in America today, but a corrective to the apparently universal pundit-class misunderstanding about what’s really going on inside “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
The mistake everyone makes is looking at Senate inaction and asking, “How can we change Senate rules so it can start legislating again?” The better question is, “Why did the Senate stop legislating in the first place?”
The answer isn’t “gridlock,” any more than “a car” drove through that parade in Wisconsin. Somewhere along the way, senators’ behavior changed. It’s not a coincidence this happened along the same timeline as the polarization of the parties over the last 30 years. Partisan filibusters were harder, and bipartisan legislating easier when the Senate had dozens of conservative-leaning Democrats and liberal-leaning Republicans.
Before moving inside the chamber, let’s take stock of an important but easily overlooked point: Senate Democrats as a group are much farther left than they were in, say, 1990, and Senate Republicans are more uniformly conservative.
Because pundits and people who read them tend to be consistent ideologues themselves, this kind of polarization seems normal, even enlightened. But all it really means is that both parties in the Senate have drifted away from—abandoned, even—the middle of the country.
The public didn’t lurch left or right. Senate rules didn’t change. Congress is simply less representative of the American people than it used to be. Pew’s well-worn ideological scatter chart from the 2016 election exit polls illustrates the point below.
The sweet spot in American politics would seem to be left-but-not-too-left-of-center on economic issues and right-but-not-too-right-of-center on cultural issues. (I’m conservative on both, for whatever it’s worth.) But today, congressmen and senators tend toward the upper-right or lower-left—the ideological extremes—with elite journalists overrepresented in the nearly empty lower-right: woke private-school parents.
The strike zone for both parties looking to forge a majority, then, should be the upper-left. This would be your pro-lifers for universal health care, men who want only their unions to build the border wall, women who want to raise taxes to build more prisons for pornographers and drug dealers. Such people—real, live, working-class moderates, the sort who decide our national elections—are thin on the ground in Washington, D.C. Indeed, they seem downright unwelcome in both parties.
Nuking the filibuster to establish a majoritarian Senate, in the context of our actual country, would only empower out-of-touch, unpopular, ideological extremists to unilaterally impose their outré elite values on a public that dislikes them. Constitutionally speaking, in the morality play of congressional politics today, the filibuster is the good guy. It’s not the hero we deserve, but the one we need, stopping Republicans from gutting social programs and Democrats from banning guns or red meat.
So, if the Senate’s rules aren’t the cause of Senate inertia, what is? Snarky Washingtonians will say “Republicans.” But that’s silly. Both sides take up the others’ tactics whenever the Senate changes hands. Gridlock is not an external force exerted on the Senate.
Nor is gridlock a condition imposed on it by an uncooperative minority. No, inaction is always a policy choice affirmatively, consciously taken by the majority. “Gridlock” and “obstruction” are weasel words Senate majorities use to duck responsibility for their own decisions.
Contrary to beltway shorthand, passing bills through the Senate doesn’t require bipartisan compromise. It just requires compromise, full stop. There’s a difference. Sixty-vote majorities could be found on almost any issue, any week of any year, through an open amendment process on the Senate floor. Heck, they could call up a blank bill for floor consideration, and let every Senator offer whatever amendment he or she wanted, and before too long, a final bill that could get 60 votes would emerge.
Both parties know this, and refuse to do it. Why? Because an open amendment process—“the wild west,” they call it—would force senators to take amendment votes that would, quelle horreur, lay bare their actual beliefs and policy priorities to their constituents.
That’s it. That’s the whole story of Senate “gridlock.” Not the filibuster, not cloture, not grandstanding, not Donald Trump or “norms,” or “obstruction” or any other nonsense you’ve been told.
At the end of the day, senators care more about protecting themselves and their colleagues from unpredictable, inconvenient floor votes than they do about passing legislation. This, and no other reason, is why both parties now legislate via secret negotiations, followed by an obnoxious, rigged floor process (“filling the tree”) that blocks all amendments except the ones mutually agreed to by the party leaders.
Remember, the amendments this process blocks are not the ones that wouldn’t pass, but the ones that would. Most Democratic senators don’t want to have to vote on popular Republican amendments to, say, curb immigration or protect gun rights. Likewise, most GOP senators don’t want to have to defend a vote against a higher minimum wage or increased spending for children’s health care.
All kinds of bills and amendments could get 60 votes in the Senate today. The problem is, they would be the wrong 60 votes—majorities representing the public as such instead of their party. When the dust settled, lots of incumbents on both sides would invite dangerous primary or general election challengers next time they faced the voters.
A good example of such a bill is the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, introduced by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. It would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 and mandate the “E-Verify” instant immigration-status test for all employers.
To normal Americans, this might sound like a sensible compromise; to Washington insiders, it’s a five-alarm fire. It would be a brutal floor vote, triggering dozens of Club for Growth- or Squad-backed primary challenges and crippling TV ads come November.
If Senate leaders ever opened up the floor, that’s the kind of legislation senators would face: popular, cross-partisan, and career-threatening. Party leaders—always at the behest of their constituents, the senators themselves—see their job as never letting an organic, unchoreographed, cross-partisan majority work its will on the floor on behalf of the American people.
Instead, majorities negotiate bills to get all of their team’s votes plus just enough of the other team’s to pass maximally partisan legislation. To leaders, this is a correct 60-vote majority that, with proper supervision and stage direction, may be permitted to pass bills through the United States Senate.
Ultimately, Senate majorities do not see gridlock as a frustrating, inferior alternative to passing legislation. They see it as a superior alternative to the transparency and accountability that comes with discharging their constitutional responsibilities.
Not convinced? When was the last time you saw a Senate majority of either party really put their shoulder to the wheel to break a partisan filibuster? I don’t mean whining to cable news or talk radio. I mean work: staying in session all night, for days on end, forcing late night attendance, including the sick old men, the cancellation of weekend plans, missing piano recitals and family weddings? Never.
If Senate majorities really want to pass legislation, they could, anytime, through a combination of compromise, transparency, and the exertion of physical energy. This approach has not been tried and found wanting, but found inconvenient and left untried.
Finally, those on the left who think a post-filibuster Senate would help their cause are really missing the forest for the trees here. Senate Democrats are never going to nuke the filibuster to “enshrine Roe’s protections” in federal law, as New York Times columnist Ezra Klein proposed on Twitter yesterday—not because they are weak or deferential to norms, but because Roe is really, really undemocratic.
Even without a red wave election, Klein’s Roe Act would quickly be watered down to a restrictive bipartisan compromise he would hate. And when the next red wave did come, the Democratic Party would be left limping for a generation.
The vast majority of federal policies today rendered untouchable by the Senate’s 60-vote cloture threshold was written between the 1930s and 1960s when even Republicans were proud liberals. Are three years of Roe-lite or some half-baked Green New Deal ramp-up really worth giving President Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Jim Jordan, and Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz free-rein to rewrite the Great Society and New Deal, the APA, the NLRB, NEPA, civil service, education, and immigration law in one swing?
They would decentralize and defund dozens of power centers within the progressive movement. The left has unimaginably more to lose from a majoritarian Senate than the right.
As a conservative who would welcome lots of those reforms, I nonetheless recognize that our system is built for consensus and stability. In America, it’s ideologues like Klein and me who are the weirdos, not the majority of the country with supposedly less consistent views. It’s good that we never have too much power.
At any given moment, both parties are advancing, on different issues, popular and unpopular ideas. The way the Senate is designed to work is, the popular ideas get creatively cobbled together and passed as consensus compromises. And the unpopular ideas are discarded as slogans for the performance artists in the House.
The only reason this doesn’t happen today is that senators’ real, if unstated, top priorities are personal convenience and partisan positioning. Passing major legislation is a distant second or third. What we see on C-Span2 every day is the majority applying minimal-to-modest effort to pass legislation, and maximal effort to protect their seats and undermine the other side.
The Senate’s rules do not stop it from legislating. It’s the senators themselves, entitled and vain, cowering in the shadows behind the one thing in Washington with the courage to stand up for all of us, simultaneously against the mob and the elite. The filibuster isn’t our hero. It’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.
Biden should spend less time with historians and more with moderates
A liberal president enters the White House in a time of national crisis. He campaigned as a moderate but soon reveals his intent to govern from the left of the center-left. His bold agenda has plenty of fans among journalists and academics who celebrate the expansion of the welfare state. They write stories and deliver soundbites likening the new chief executive to FDR. The end of Reaganism, they say, is at hand.
I’m referring, of course, to President Barack Obama. Shortly after his election in 2008, Time magazine portrayed him as Dr. New Deal, complete with fedora and cigarette holder. “It would seem that Obama has been studying the 1932 Great Depression campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” wrote E.J. Dionne in his syndicated column. “Conservatism is Dead,” announced the New Republic. “It has been that kind of presidency,” gushed Jon Meacham in 2009. “Barack Obama, moving as he wishes to move, and the world bending itself to him.”
Take a moment to recover from that last bit of purple prose. Then recall that two years after Obama’s victory, Republicans won the House. In 2014, Republicans kept the House and won the Senate. And two years after that, Republicans won complete control of the federal government. Conservatism didn’t die—the New Republic did. (It’s been reborn as a monthly.)
Now the same wonks and historians who compared Obama to the architect of managerial liberalism downplay his tenure in office as overly cautious, modest, and risk-averse. They’ve settled on a new, new FDR: Joe Biden. And Biden is ready to play the part. Even if it means risking Democratic control of Congress.
Biden met recently at the White House with a group of historians who, according to Axios, share his view that “It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.” Biden’s “closest analogues,” Michael Beschloss told the news outlet, are FDR and LBJ. E.J. Dionne says Biden represents “a new disposition through which pragmatic forms of government activism add up to a quiet political revolution.” And Biden “loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama,” writes Mike Allen. No doubt he does.
You would think that, in the midst of all the pandering and praise, the scholars who talked to Biden might have provided him some actual historical perspective. Every president Biden is said to recall, including Reagan, had to endure numerous setbacks, crises, unforced errors, and unanticipated consequences of their own policies. By 1938, the New Deal was exhausted, the economy hadn’t recovered from the Depression, and FDR won his final two terms largely on the basis of his international stature. LBJ’s landslide in 1964 was followed by a shellacking in 1966 and the collapse of the Democratic coalition in 1968. The GOP lost 26 seats in the House in 1982, forfeited control of the Senate in 1986, and when he left office Reagan handed his vice president a giant deficit, the Savings and Loan debacle, and a zealous special prosecutor.
The historians urging Biden to go big on policy aren’t analysts. They are partisan cheerleaders. If they stepped back, they would see that Biden is weaker than the presidents he admires and that vulnerable Democrats are warning the majority against overreach.
The Biden team gave Axios four reasons the president is ready to ditch the filibuster and push through a $3 trillion infrastructure and green energy bill, changes to election law in the “For the People Act,” and possibly an immigration amnesty. Biden has (1) “full party control of Congress, and a short window to go big,” (2) “party activists” are “egging him on,” (3) “he has strong gathering economic winds at his back,” and (4) “he’s popular in polls.”
But the same evidence could also be read as an argument for caution and restraint. Biden has less support in Congress than any of the presidents he emulates. (Reagan never controlled the House, but often had a majority of conservative Democrats plus Republicans.) At the moment, Biden’s party has 219 seats in the House and 50 in the Senate—meaning he can lose just two votes in the lower chamber and none in the upper one. It’s one thing to enact significant legislation on a partisan majority. It’s something else to enact such legislation on a partisan majority of one during a time when a positive COVID test upsets the whip count.
Nor is following “party activists” a certain route to political success. Economic winds change direction. And while Biden is popular, his disapproval rating in the January Gallup poll was second only to Donald Trump’s. Negative partisanship drives Biden to steamroll the Republicans. It also exposes him to political rebuke.
Some Democrats are beginning to express qualms with various aspects of Biden’s approach. Maine Democrat Jared Golden was the only member of his party to vote against Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Henry Cuellar of Texas was among the first congressmen to draw attention to the crisis on the southern border. Filemon Vela, also of Texas, announced his retirement the other day, a few months after his vote share dropped to 55 percent from 60 percent in 2018. Several House Democrats have said they disagree with Nancy Pelosi’s outrageous plot to expel Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and replace her with Rita Hart, who lost by six votes last year. And West Virginia senator Joe Manchin has yet to cosponsor the election bill at the center of the Democrats’ campaign to end the filibuster.
In these early days, Biden’s presidency has been less a transformation than a continuation of the partisan stalemate that has existed since the end of the Cold War. Parties win elections, misread electoral victories as ideological endorsements, overreach, and pay for it at the polls. The Democrats for whom the bill will come due first are well aware of this dynamic. They may not be as good on television as Jon Meacham or Michael Beschloss, but they have plenty of insight into the aspirations and concerns of swing voters. Biden may want to have them over to the East Room. Before they are out of work.
Congressional Democrats are pitching their H.R. 1 “For the People Act” as a necessary salve for a broken electoral system. If enacted, they claim, the bill’s provisions will fix a broken campaign finance system, protect voting rights, and make the average American feel once again like they can trust the system we use to select our leaders.
Truthfully, it doesn’t do any of those things but they’re hoping no one catches on. Or because they fear being called “racist” or worse for failing to fight “voter suppression,” won’t fight. That’s unfortunate, at least for the GOP – whose strategy to stop the bill depends on the filibuster – because it’s a bad bill that would keep the Democrats in power almost in perpetuity.
Among its many outrageous provisions is one that would essentially vitiate state laws requiring voters to produce some form of government-issued photo ID before being allowed to vote. To most Americans, that’s a commonsense kind of thing, backed by 75 percent of likely voters in one recent poll.
Look at the facts. We’re asked to show ID every day, whether we’re trying to get on an airplane, make a bank deposit, or enter a federal government building. Democrats say, without offering a convincing explanation as to why it’s so, that asking the same of voters at a polling place would be racist and constitute voter suppression rather than protect the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.”
The American public isn’t buying the criticism, something Red State Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, and Montana’s Jon Tester should be thinking about when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York tries to twist their arms and get them to vote for the bill. There is room for a principled objection to the bill because voters still back the idea that a valid photo ID must be shown before a ballot can be cast by overwhelming margins.
A recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found 75 percent of likely voters agreed voters should have to show a valid driver’s license or some other form of government-issued identification before they could cast a ballot. Less than a quarter of all those surveyed – just 21 percent – said they were opposed.
When an issue has nearly 80 percent support, a smart politician just stands next to it. As it now stands, on top of the near-universal support it has nationally, 36 states have some form of voter ID law that would be nullified to one degree or another if H.R. 1 – which passed the House with only Democrat support — becomes law.
In its analysis, Rasmussen reports said, “Support for voter ID laws has actually increased since 2018, when 67 percent (of likely voters surveyed) said voters should be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote.”
Voter ID laws are strongly backed by Republicans, with 89 percent saying they support making people prove who they are before they can cast a ballot alongside 77 percent of non-affiliated voters and, remarkably, 60 percent of Democrats sharing that view. The party in Congress, it seems, is out of touch with its rank and file.
As to the claim that voter ID laws are discriminatory, Rasmussen Reports says, voters, reject it by a margin of nearly 2-to1 as “60 percent say laws requiring photo identification at the polls don’t discriminate.” Just under a third, 31 percent, said they do while 10 percent were not sure either way. Unsurprisingly, a bare majority of Democrats – 51 percent – say such laws do discriminate 79 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents said they did not. Somewhat shockingly, the pollster said, “Voters under 40 support voter ID laws more than do older voters” as do most whites (74 percent), blacks (69 percent), and other minorities (82 percent).
The abolition of voter identification requirements is but one of several odious provisions contained within H.R. 1 that would, many analysts have claimed, make it harder to prevent election fraud in the future.
Other provisions contained within the legislation would mandate same-day registration in all 50 states, expand early voting that in some states runs into months rather than weeks or days, and establish rules for handling ballots that would essentially codify the practice of ballot harvesting some states have already made illegal.
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
It looks like Senate Democrats have the 41 votes they need to block the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. This means majority leader Mitch McConnell is almost surely going to use the nuclear option to confirm him. Which is a shame.
We can only assume this is what Chuck Schumer intended. The minority leader knows full well that, one way or another, Gorsuch would be on the court. Perhaps the nuclear option was fait accompli, but with nothing to show for the 2016 election thus far, Republicans need a tangible victory.
Schumer probably also believes Republicans would nuke the judicial filibuster on the next Supreme Court pick, anyway. He’s probably right. So what downside is there for him in forcing the GOP to put the filibuster out of its misery? Continue reading
By Peter Roff • USNews
It’s not clear when the Senate started playing politics with Supreme Court nominations. Some say it’s been that way all along, going back at least as far as the time of Chief Justice John Marshall and Marbury vs. Madison.
Others say the confirmation process only became truly venomous after President Ronald Reagan selected federal judge Robert Bork, a former U.S. solicitor general, to fill a seat that would shift the high court’s delicate balance of power in a rightward direction.
Bork was ultimately defeated, not because he was unqualified for the post – according to the standards in place before he was nominated he could only be described as supremely qualified – but because Senate Democrats feared how he would rule. Continue reading
By Evan Harris • ABC News
President Obama’s expressed hope today in his weekly address “that we can avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship that has bogged down this (Supreme Court nomination) process, and Congress, in the past” runs against another historical first for the 44th president: his unique role in history as the first US President to have ever voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.
So while there is little indication Republicans intend to filibuster President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the GOP will likely invoke the President’s unique history whenever he calls their tactics into question.
In January 2006, then-Sen. Obama joined 24 colleagues in a futile effort led by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of now-Justice Samuel Alito. Continue reading
It would seem to be a rather unfortunate time for Democrats in Washington to make a naked power grab. Americans already don’t trust them with the powers they have amid the ObamaCare crash and nobody likes to see politicians do anything naked. At all.
Whatever one thinks about the Republican habit of blockading President Obama’s judicial nominees – an unremarkable continuation of bipartisan blocking tactics or pure Copperheaded obstructionism – the moment doesn’t seem quite right for the unpopular party in power to start throwing its weight around. Continue reading