Let’s damn Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer with his own words, shall we? In 2006, when it was Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats attempting to block the agenda of then-President George W. Bush, the New York Democrat said this of a GOP threat to end the filibuster:
“The checks and balances which have been at the core of this republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say that if you get 51% of the vote, you don’t get your way 100% of the time.”
Now that it’s Schumer’s party hoping to use its bare majority in the Senate to impose its will unchecked on the nation, he’s had a filibuster epiphany. In the name of saving democracy, Schumer is proposing to suspend this vital protection against majoritarianism and federalize elections on what he hopes will be a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris in the 50-50 Senate.
Schumer, who led more than 300 filibusters during the Trump presidency, was dead right the first time. The filibuster, which requires a 60-vote minimum for passing most legislation, works against the tyranny of the majority. It is an important safeguard of the very democracy Schumer insists is at risk if states continue to run their own elections.
Schumer is willing to dump the filibuster altogether. Resistance from moderates makes that unlikely, but they still hope they can convince him to temporarily suspend it to pass the so-called voter rights bill.
That legislation would impose federal rules on state elections to effectively take management and oversight of balloting away from local officials and place it in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. The Democratic-controlled House has already passed the bill on a straight partisan vote.
Much of the overwrought rhetoric surrounding the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ ridiculous claim the incident was equivalent to Pearl Harbor and the 9-11 terrorist attacks, was aimed at convincing voters democracy is at risk unless the government steps in to prevent Republican-led states from requiring voter ID and banning ballot harvesting.
Fortunately, the two heroes of the Senate, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are again standing in the way of their party’s worst ambitions. Both have opposed dumping the filibuster.
Manchin wisely observed that ending the filibuster once will end it for good, saying: “Anytime there’s a carveout, you eat the whole turkey. There’s nothing left.”
He also warned any tactic Democrats use now will be used by Republicans when they control the Senate. History bears that out. It was Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s elimination of the filibuster of lower court appointees that eventually allowed Republicans to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court without 60-vote majorities.
The legislation Democrats would sacrifice the filibuster to pass is unnecessary. There is no evidence of voter suppression in states that have adopted election integrity rules. Voter participation is on the rise even in those states that have enacted election reforms.
And if there are laws passed that restrict access to the ballot box, the courts have proven an effective remedy.
Maintaining confidence in the electoral process is essential to sustaining democracy. Democrats risk eroding public trust by blowing up Senate rules to pass a bill that strips states of their constitutional right to run their own elections.
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