Biden goes nuclear in Georgia: It's time to get rid of the filibuster

An ugly speech by a desperate man, one that included this bon mot: “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? The side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? The side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

It’s pointless asking him to be more respectful of Senate Republicans. But you’d think he’d consider Joe Manchin’s and Kyrsten Sinema’s feelings considering he still needs both of their votes if there’s still any chance of passing Build Back Better. “You support slavery and segregation” isn’t a great opener on negotiations.

Also, since when does Joe Biden have a problem with George Wallace?

The demagoguery here is inversely proportional to the likelihood of the filibuster rules being changed to pass voting rights, and deliberately so. Biden knows that this effort is doomed to fail and he knows that many progressive and African-American voters will be royally pissed off about it when it does. His best play with the bad hand he’s holding is to pound the table angrily, showing them that he’s on their side, and hope that they blame Manchin and Sinema instead of the entire party when deciding whether to turn out in November.

Like I say: Ugly.

Not a great look for President Norms. Maybe it’s time for Ben Sasse to return to the floor of the Senate and recite Biden’s stirring defense of the filibuster from 2005, something he did last March but which should probably become an annual tradition for Republicans.

Why does Biden sound so agitated here? Because voting rights activists have all but given up on him and aren’t being shy about saying so. He spent his first year catering to progressive spending priorities instead of pushing for voting reform and now his political capital has ebbed, eroded by COVID, Afghanistan, inflation, school closures, crime, you name it. It’s too little, too late for people who care about this issue:

The president’s trip, however, has drawn objections from some of his allies, who are upset he didn’t make a priority of voting rights months ago and instead focused on trying to win passage of his tax and spending plan. Voting activists in Georgia said Biden and Harris would make better use of their time staying in Washington to prod their caucus.

“If President Biden was going to make a speech calling for its passage, more important than doing it in Georgia would’ve been actually doing it in the Senate at one of the Dem caucus meetings, which by the way would’ve allowed them to hear his speech at breakfast and go out and vote by lunchtime,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, a group credited with helping to flip the state for Biden in 2020…

“How far is the president willing to go and how specific is the president willing to get?” said Tré Easton, deputy director of Battle Born Collective, a left-leaning group that tries to steer progressive policies through Congress. “We just got to the point of him being comfortable with a carveout of the filibuster for voting rights, but it took 12 months to get there.”

“We’re beyond speeches. At this point, what we need, what we are demanding, is federal legislation,” said the co-founder of Black Votes Matter to the AP. But she’s not going to get any legislation thanks to Manchin and Sinema and Biden knows it. This tweet from last night made me laugh:

It’s not inexplicable. Democrats have to waste time on this futile pursuit of a federal voting rights bill to show their base that it’s a top priority for them even though it’s futile. They have to try, or at least engage in a pantomime of trying. There’s a one percent chance that so many grassroots lefties will be galvanized by it that Manchin and Sinema really will recalibrate and bend on a filibuster tweak to make it happen. But if that doesn’t work, and it almost certainly won’t, Biden at least has to make it known far and wide among Democrats that he’s not giving this issue short shrift. He’s as mad as voters are about state-level GOP efforts to tighten voting requirements, damn it, and he’s not going to take it anymore!

It’s Biden’s version of an “I feel your pain” message, essentially. That’s all he can offer progressives when he can’t deliver an actual win for them this time.

Is that enough, though? “I share your rage” is a nice message, one that’s enough to keep the Republican base happy when it comes from one of their political heroes. But Biden’s base demands actual policy wins. What will happen when it becomes clear to them that they’re going to lose this one?

[I]n pivoting so fully to voting rights from his recent efforts to pass a major social spending bill, Biden risks opening the new year with a second legislative setback, given the daunting obstacles facing any voting rights package in Congress — including the near-unified opposition of Republicans and the reluctance of some Democrats to ease filibuster rules…

“If all they are doing is coming to give a speech, then I might have some Republicans to be fighting with at that time,” [Nsé] Ufot said. “What we need is a plan. What we need are marching orders. How are we headed into the midterms? What posture will we have to adopt? And is it worth it to continue to seek federal protections for voting rights?”…

“What we want to see — as opposed to hear — is an outcome where there is legislation on the president’s desk which he can sign to protect the right to vote,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP.

“The president is weak and can’t get anything done but he’s with us in spirit” is not the stuff of which strong midterm performances are made but it’s the best Biden can do under the circumstances. Once the effort fails this month, he’ll move on to the inevitable talking point that only by electing more liberal Democrats to the Senate this fall can the party marginalize Manchin and Sinema and dump the filibuster. (Of course, once Republicans are in control of the other chamber, dumping the filibuster will be pointless.) Paradoxically, Democrats’ failures become an argument for turning out and increasing their ranks in Congress.

Think it’ll work? Me neither.

Here’s “Morning Joe” laughing at the fact that Stacey Abrams found an excuse not to attend Biden’s speech today, further evidence of what a liability he’s become to candidates in his own party.