Friday should have been the stuff of bipartisan dreams. After 35 House Republicans ignored their boggy leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy and voted last week to set up a Jan. 6 commission to investigate the domestic terror attack on our Capitol, six Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting for this legislation essential to our national security. A seventh, Pat Toomey, was not present due to a “family commitment,” but said he would have supported the bill.
So when will this newly formed sedition commission finally begin its work, you ask? It won’t, because Republicans filibustered it.
For months Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has been arguing—and somewhere there must be a 21-letter-German word to describe this—for the necessity of preserving the legislative filibuster that requires 60 votes to move ahead with almost any bill, apparently convinced it’s key to keeping the mythical spirit of bipartisanship in that chamber. Manchin said Friday that “choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable” and a “betrayal of the oath we each take,” just not enough to stop it since he’s already said that he won’t “destroy our government” by ending the filibuster that allowed for that betrayal, which Democrats could do right now if he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema would just support it.
Instead, the two holdout Democrats have argued for months that this legislative accident of history that appears nowhere in the text of the constitution is some kinda holy grail. Sure, its most prominent proponent in the 19th Century was John C. Calhoun, followed by Strom Thurmond in the 20th Century. But, hey, it’s not like they were in favor of anything bad.
And, ok, it has been abused in heretofore unimaginable ways by the eternally crusty Mitch McConnell, but, still, it must be kept if we’re to be a bipartisan nation. Or something.
How Dems Can Force Manchin and Sinema to Put Up or Shut Up
It’s hard to understand how Manchin even acquired this folklore of the filibuster facilitating bipartisanship. Only six months ago, in another bipartisan act, 10 Republican House members and seven Republican Senators voted to, respectively, impeach and convict Donald Trump for his role in inciting that terrorist attack on Jan. 6. The impeachment vote was not subject to a filibuster, so while the two thirds necessary to convict in the Senate was not reached, that bipartisan vote was recorded for all time.
Why? Say it with me: It couldn’t be filibustered.
Manchin already had a more personal example to draw from. In 2012, the nation was horrified when a madman massacred 20 little girls and boys and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Such was the carnage that many senators who had previously taken the NRA’s view on guns, including Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Mark Warner and Harry Reid decided they could no longer abide by the extremism and callousness of the gun lobby.
Clearly, Manchin was also deeply affected. He hailed from mostly rural West Virginia and always had an A-rating from the NRA. He even shot a piece of EPA legislation in a Senate campaign ad.
But a changed Manchin stepped forward after Newtown. In a signature moment as a legislator, he and Toomey bucked the NRA and co-sponsored a bipartisan effort to close loopholes allowing the deranged and dangerous to buy firearms at gun shows and on the Internet, no background check required.
There were 55 votes for this legislation in the Senate, including four Republicans. But 60 votes were required, because of the filibuster, and so for eight years we’ve added more names to the list of needless tragedies, including San Jose on Wednesday, that have inspired the recurring Onion headline: No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.
The Filibuster Can’t Be ‘Reformed’—It Must Be Nuked
“The filibuster is a profoundly anti-democratic tool,” New York University History Professor Tom Sugrue told The Daily Beast. “The Founders were opposed to a minority veto in The Senate, so it can’t be justified as a part of America’s long political past. And its most persistent use was to thwart civil rights legislation that had bipartisan support in the post second world war period.”
Manchin may believe he’s preserving bipartisanship by supporting the filibuster, but history and a simple analysis of recent votes would tell him he’s accomplishing exactly the opposite. At a time when Donald Trump’s authoritarianism and seditious lies have led Republicans around the country to create a legal regimen for state legislatures to reject the will of their voters, the need to act is clear.
To preserve the ability of the half dozen or so Republican Senators willing to work with Democrats in a bipartisan manner to protect the republic, Manchin and Sinema must rid the Senate of the filibuster. To do anything less will not only imperil any chance of bipartisanship, but our democracy itself.
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