The stubborn refusal on the part of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to eliminate or even reform the filibuster --- at least as it pertains to Voting Rights Legislation --- along with his refusal to join with his 49 Democratic colleagues in the Senate who have co-sponsored the For the People Act of 2021 endangers the very survival of our democracy.
The For the People Act, already passed as H.R.1 in the House and currently pending as S.1 in the Senate, is a comprehensive election, campaign, ethics and voting rights reform measure that would, among other things, eliminate partisan gerrymandering of Congressional Districts, curb dark money campaign contributions, and preempt many state-based GOP voter suppression and intimidation laws, schemes and tactics around the country.
As we previously reported, representative democracy, or what President Abraham Lincoln described as "government of the people, by the people and for the people," faces a moment of grave peril. One of the nation's two major political parties has morphed into an authoritarian cult that has not only launched a state-by-state, all-out assault on the right to vote, but has also joined with their cult leader, former President Donald J. Trump, and right-wing propaganda outlets; waging a war against the very existence of a fact-based reality.
The latest example of that war on truth occurred on May 28 when 44 Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block the creation of a bipartisan Commission by a majority of Senators to investigate the deadly January 6 insurrection. The obstruction vote in the Senate coincided with a new poll revealing that 53% of Republican voters actually believe the Big "Stop the Steal" Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Prior to last week's Senate vote, Manchin naively expressed the belief that there were at least ten "patriots" amongst the 50 Senate Republicans, who would vote to create the Commission. When he was asked whether he'd support ending the filibuster if there were an insufficient number of "patriots" within the Senate's Republican Caucus, the West Virginia Democrat replied: "I'm not willing to destroy our government, no."
It's unclear precisely what form of "government" Manchin was referring to, but it most certainly was not a representative "democracy"...
An undemocratic institution
By its very design, the United States Senate is a remarkably undemocratic institution. The 581,075 people (91.7% white) who reside in Wyoming and 724,357 people (64.58% white) who live in Alaska, are represented by twice the number of U.S. Senators (4) as the number of Senators (2), who represent the 39.6 million (59.7% white) population of California. Neither the 689,545 people, who reside in Washington D.C., nor the more than 2.8 million who reside in Puerto Rico have any representation in the U.S. Senate.
To place the Senate's undemocratic make-up into even starker terms, as Vox's Ian Millhiser observed earlier this year, after Georgia elected two Democrats to the Senate in January, "the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half."
One of those Senators, Rev. Rafael Warnock (D-GA), astutely observed earlier this year: "It is a contradiction [for Manchin] to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society." One could add that the filibuster defies the rights of the majority.
Last year, more than 81 million American citizens cast their votes for President Joe Biden and for his progressive agenda. They didn't vote to retain the filibuster, for legislative gridlock in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis, or for unattainable "bipartisanship" at a time when one of the two major political parties has lost touch with reality while seeking to destroy representative democracy.
As reflected by the first three words of the U.S. Constitution ("We the People"), ours is a representative democracy in which the People are sovereign. Our elected "leaders" in both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government are supposed to reflect the will of the electorate. When they don't, "We the People" vote them out of office.
The 2020 Presidential Election, followed by the January 2021 Senate runoffs in Georgia, made it clear that a majority of the U.S. electorate rejected both the corrupt, dysfunctional and inept Trump administration and the partisan gridlock that led former Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to boast that his desk had become a "Legislative Graveyard". Indeed, following the Biden victory, McConnell's favorability rating dropped to just 20%.
Any doubts about the desires of the vast majority of the U.S. electorate were eliminated via passage of the wildly popular $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and by polling with respect to Biden's proposed $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan.
Because every Congressional Republican voted against Biden's American Rescue Plan, Senate Democrats had to resort to Budget Reconciliation procedures, allowing passage by a simply majority vote for strictly budget related matters, in order to evade the GOP filibuster. The measure narrowly passed 50 to 49, with the votes of all Democrats in the upper chamber. One Republican, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, was not present, so Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to break a tie in favor of the Democrats.
The undemocratic nature of the unified Congressional Republican opposition is reflected by the fact that the measure was supported by 70% of the U.S. electorate, including 73% of independents, according to polling in April before passage. The Plan, which aided in the extraordinarily successful rollout of COVID vaccines, among other things, was credited with helping to create 916,000 jobs in March alone. It was so popular and so successful that a number of Republicans, in furtherance of their war on reality, shamelessly sought to take credit for it even after voting against it.
Those same Congressional Republicans are also unified in their opposition to raising corporate taxes --- reduced to record low levels by Republicans in 2017 --- in order to pay for the American Jobs Plan, the President's infrastructure proposal. That, despite the fact that it is supported by 65% of the electorate who are even more supportive of the measure when told that it will be paid for by raising taxes on corporations.
Filibuster v. democracy
One would hope that the other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, or the President himself, can somehow reach Senator Manchin on these matters. He can either choose to preserve the filibuster or he can choose to preserve democracy. There is, at this point, no middle ground.
As his colleague Sen. Warnock poignantly observed, "Ours is a land where possibility is born of democracy. A vote. A voice. A chance to help determine the direction of the country and one's own destiny in it. A possibility born of democracy."
At the core of democracy is the right to vote, which the GA Democrat described as "preservative of all other rights...the reason why any of us has the privilege of standing here in the first place. It is," Warnock eloquently added, "about the covenant we have with one another as an American People. E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one." In consonance with that covenant, he said, it is "the job of each citizen to stand up for the voting rights of every other citizen."
Do your job, Senator Manchin. Stand up for the voting rights of every other citizen. Ditch the filibuster for Voting Rights Legislation and cast a vote for the For the People Act of 2021 --- before it is too late.