A good speech, worth watching in full if you can spare the time but certainly at least five minutes’ worth from the point where I’ve cued up the clip below. “The filibuster is racist” is a common talking point of late among Senate Democrats, a caucus that just wrapped four years of using that same racist implement to obstruct the Republican agenda. But the man who took the argument fully mainstream was Barack Obama, a former filibusterer himself in the Senate, who used the occasion of John Lewis’s funeral last summer to remind his party that the procedure had been used to block civil-rights legislation. Our first black president was looking ahead to a possible Biden presidency, remembering how successful McConnell had been in thwarting Hopenchange and signaling to his party that they should feel free to demagogue centrist Dems inclined to let that degree of obstruction recur.
Believe the filibuster is worth preserving? Then you’re the son and heir of Jim Crow.
The Democratic answer to Sasse’s question of why it wasn’t racist to filibuster Scott’s bill or some Trump initiative but is racist now is that H.R. 1 is different. That’s their voting-rights mega-bill, their top legislative priority, which they believe will all but guarantee a permanent Democratic majority if it passes. And the only way it can pass is if Joe Manchin crumbles on the filibuster. The “racism” talking point is designed to link obstruction of H.R. 1 to obstruction of civil-rights bills during segregation, believing that any Democrat at risk of wearing the scarlet “R” will decide to capitulate in the end instead.
The one wrinkle: H.R. 1 is a garbage bill.
The sections of the bill related to voting systems—wholly separate from its provisions on voting rights—show remarkably little understanding of the problems the authors apply alarmingly prescriptive solutions to. Many of the changes the bill demands of election administrators are literally impossible to implement. Others would significantly raise the cost of elections but provide no assured long-term funding.
It empowers an agency—the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission—that was criticized less than a year ago for mismanagement and fecklessness by the same Democrats promoting this bill. And, perversely to its purpose, the bill would make elections less secure by forcing states to rush gargantuan changes on deeply unrealistic time frames. The fixes needed are many and are doable, so it’s unacceptable that the authors of the Senate bill bypassed the chance to improve it.
“I don’t know what they were thinking, honestly,” said the head of an elections nonprofit. “It’s a bad bill. The goals might be admirable, but it’s a f***ing bad bill.” Election administrators used the F-word a lot during my chats with them, frustrated because they’ve eagerly sought federal funding and basic attention to their offices, only to be handed impossible goals they’ll be held individually responsible for meeting. This person isn’t the only one who declined to be named when I asked more than 15 election administrators—a mix of federal, state, and local officials—to comment on the bill. It’s easy to understand why they blanched at offering their candid opinions.
“[I]t was written with apparently no consultation with election administrators, and it shows,” reporter Jessica Huseman notes. The most fateful question in American politics today, then: Can Democrats get a dog’s breakfast of a voting-rights bill with momentous consequences for America’s elections to Joe Biden’s desk just by hooting “racist” at Joe Manchin until he loses his mind? We’ll find out.
One notable theme in Sasse’s scolding of the other party for its demagoguery is his experiences with demagoguery on his own side. I know it’s tough to stand up to your own base sometimes, says the guy who just voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial, but that’s sort of what senators are for:
[A] lot of Senators who quietly want to resist this change, and there are many on that side of the aisle, who want to resist this change, you’re worried that going against the tide means watching dollars and votes flow away. It means getting screamed at in restaurants. It means that your self-interest is to avoid the short-term pain and ride the short-term wave. Let me tell you, this feels pretty familiar…
Nobody has to tell me how unpleasant it is to stand up and say things that are unpopular in your own party.
Over the course of the past 5 years, I’ve been smeared and censured many times. I’ve been cussed out by lots of people who once supported me and called me a friend. None of that was particularly fun, but so what? The oath I took and the duty I swore was related to the point of being a United States Senator, which is that if you’re not willing to stand up to your own side every now and again, there is really no point to having this job.
An important asymmetry between the two parties on the filibuster which others have noted but which Sasse does not is the fact that the Democratic legislative agenda is much more ambitious than the GOP’s. The sort of thing McConnell has in mind if Republicans get to pass bills with 50 votes is reciprocal concealed-carry. The sort of thing Schumer has in mind is a massive overhaul of U.S. elections — and a far-reaching immigration amnesty, and potentially Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and college debt forgiveness, and on and on. The Democratic agenda would be revolutionary in certain respects; the GOP agenda, to the extent one exists, would be comparatively pedestrian, with Republican voters more focused on repealing Democratic initiatives than enacting their own creative policies. That being so, it’s relatively easy for McConnell to say “no thanks” to nuking the filibuster as he can already do important things that his party wants to do via preexisting exceptions to the filibuster (confirming judges) and budget reconciliation (tax cuts). It’s harder for Dems, which is why they’re playing hardball with nasty “racism” jabs about anodyne Senate procedure.