Democrats’ Top Priority Is To Reform Elections. Will It Be The Bill To Break The Filibuster?
Democrats have control of the House and Senate and want to use them to reform elections and make voting easier. But first they have to get past Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), The Senate Minority Leader.
Congressional Democrats are pushing for a comprehensive package of voting rights, gerrymandering, elections, campaign finance and ethical reforms, the For the People Act. It is listed as H.R. 1 in the House of Representatives and as P. 1 in the Senate, which means it is the Democrats' top legislative priority. In the past two decades, every bill marked with both H.R. 1 and S. 1 has become law.
However, if the For the People Act is to be passed, the Democrats will have to overcome the only obstacle clogging almost any law that doesn't directly affect the federal budget: the filibuster. Democrats only have 50 votes - plus Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties - and Republicans could easily use the filibuster to prevent electoral reform. McConnell, who previously described the legislation as "socialism" and "takeover," blocked it from a Senate vote in 2019.
The debate over the filibuster - that it is an archaic instrument that has historically been used primarily to block civil rights law and is now preventing the government from doing what voters want it to do - is already boiling. If the filibuster kills the democracy reform, it could ultimately lead the Democrats to turn around and kill the filibuster.
Former President Barack Obama, Democratic lawmakers and activists are already paving the way for this argument. At the funeral of civil rights hero and Democratic MP John Lewis last summer, Obama called the filibuster a "Jim Crow relic" and said if Republicans dared filibuster the legislation to re-approve the suffrage bill (a bill that now named after Lewis)), Democrats shouldn't hesitate in eliminating the filibuster to get the bill passed.
The same goes for the For the People Act: Lewis and his staff penned the entire first section, which vastly expands the right to vote and restricts tactics used to suppress voters.
Those reforms are even more important now, the Democrats argue, as Republicans attempt to pass new state-level voter restrictions, fueled by former President Donald Trump's electoral fraud lies. If the Democrats don't make these reforms now, they may be too late.
They intend for the For the People Act to become law. Whatever is necessary.
"It is all systems trying to do this," said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), The main sponsor of the bill in the House.
Former President Barack Obama called the filibuster a "Jim Crow relic" in his laudatory speech at the memorial service for the deceased John Lewis in the Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020 in Atlanta. (Photo: Alyssa Zeigerpool / Getty Images)
The struggle for democracy
The Democrats had not expected to gain unified control of Congress after the November 3rd vote. Although Joe Biden won the White House, they were two seats short of a 50-seat majority in the Senate with two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5th. Then they both won runoff elections and gave them control of the White House and both houses of Congress.
Now they are trying to figure out how they are going to implement their agenda. Just like when he took office in 2009, the main stumbling block is McConnell using the filibuster to block any laws he can.
There was intense discussion at the time about eliminating or reforming the filibuster, but these burgeoning efforts failed to overcome the reluctance of the old Democratic senators, who failed to understand that the Senate, in which they had served for decades, had been in the 1970s had changed.
In 2010, a coalition formed around the reform of the filibuster, which finally led the then Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), To kill the filibuster for judicial candidates in court, in order to get a Republican-led blockade in the Year 2013 to overcome. After Trump McConnell became president in 2017 and ended the filibuster for Supreme Court candidates to fill the seat he held open more than a year after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.
The foundations laid down a decade ago are giving proponents of today's filibuster reform a good start. The Fix Our Senate anti-filibuster coalition was launched in 2019 with the support of several groups involved in the 2010 effort, including Communications Workers America, Common Cause and Public Citizen, as well as many new progressive and themed partners such as Sunrise Movement and Data for Progress .
Fix Our Senate and the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of good governments and progressive groups whose membership overlaps that of Fix Our Senate, now appoint Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), and other major Democrats under pressure to pass the People's Law no matter what.
Fix Our Senate already ran a full-page ad in the New York Times urging Schumer to end the filibuster. Further ads are planned in states represented by Democratic senators who are not currently involved in ending the filibuster, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
The Declaration for American Democracy intends to target seven states: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. These conditions fall into four different, but sometimes overlapping, categories. There are states with Democratic senators who are currently opposed to ending filibuster (Arizona and West Virginia), states with potentially vacillating Republican senators (Alaska and Maine), states whose electoral systems were attacked by Trump as part of his election campaign (Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania) and states with moderate House Democrats that supported the For the People Act (Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia).
The For the People Act "is becoming a major focal point in the fight to eradicate the filibuster as it is both crucial and absolutely clear that it will be filibuster," said Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Fix Our Senate. He added: “If Democrats fail to take steps for two years to fix our democracy, fight corruption and protect the right to vote, it will be a failure. This will be a two year failure. "
The struggle in Congress over the For the People Act will begin in earnest in the coming weeks. The House plans to pass the law in the week of March 1st. After that, the Senate will hold hearings on the bill and likely put it to a vote.
And this is where the bill is expected to be blocked by a Republican filibuster and become a focal point in the battle to change Senate rules.
Then Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (center) and then Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) Will attend a press conference on the For the People Act on March 27, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Appeal / Getty Images)
The Democrats' plan for the passage
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Is the leading co-sponsor of the For the People Act in the Senate, along with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), And also the leading advocate for the elimination of the filibuster. He insists that the bill become law. To do so, it must either have the support of 10 Republican senators, which is unlikely, or overcome opposition to eliminating the filibuster voiced by Manchin and Sinema.
"It has to happen in some way," Merkley said, "but it could happen in different ways."
One way to get Republican support is to expose the bill to the Senate for all German amendments. Most of the bills were passed with a rule elaborated by the majority party that restricted amendments and debates. Showing openness to the other party's amendments and debates is rare these days and could deserve buy-in from the other side.
If that doesn't work, the Democrats feel that the Democrats must immediately look into all possible ways to change the filibuster rule. This could include lowering the threshold for overcoming the filibuster from 60 to 55 votes, eliminating the threshold of 60 votes, but providing a speaking filibuster, or completely exiting the filibuster.
A majority party changing the rules to pass its laws with the highest priority would not be uncommon, Merkley noted. In fact, Republicans changed the rules for budget voting in 2015 after taking control of the Senate. This change allowed them to adopt their own H.R. 1 and S. 1 in 2017, a package of tax reforms as well as tax cuts for higher income and corporate bodies.
Failure to comply with the For the People Act would not only mean that the Democrats failed to implement the heart of their agenda. it would also pave the way for a new wave of government action to repress voters driven by Trump's election fraud lies.
Currently, Republican-controlled state lawmakers are pushing for bills to limit early and absent-minded votes, remove voters from the list, and tighten voter ID requirements. The For the People Act would ban almost all of these systems to make it more difficult for certain communities to vote.
"We have a very, very small majority here, a majority that we are likely to lose if the suppression of voters is based on steroids, as seems to be the path so many state lawmakers are on right now," Merkley said . "And so this is the crucial moment to pass this bill."
In addition, the bill would ban partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to set up independent, impartial redistribution bodies to draw the house's district lines. Given the extent of the Republicans' current control over state law, thanks to the district borders that were changed in 2011, theoretically, the majority of the Democratic House could be ripped off before the 2022 midterm elections. A quick passage of the For the People Act could potentially prevent this and block new laws to suppress voters.
It remains to be seen how many filibusters will be required to generate the necessary pressure to combat the filibuster. The For the People Act may be the first bill blocked in this Congress, but as long as there is a filibuster, it won't be the last.
The House Democrats expect to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act this spring as well. If the Republicans block this as well, they are sending a clear symbolic message: The GOP, which is just trying to overthrow an election by disenfranchising black voters, is ready to stamp on Lewis' legacy.
Democrats must decide whether to let Republicans block these bills, which will further disenfranchise black voters, or whether to pass the laws they enacted.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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