Politics

Manchin and Sinema had the chance to restore U.S. democracy. They proudly rejected it

Both Manchin and Sinema repeatedly offered pieties about the sanctity of the filibuster, but both also voted to waive the filibuster to lift the debt ceiling just last month. Both function in a Senate in which nominees, including to lifetime judgeships, are confirmed by majority votes. And if they want to claim a concern for the history of the Senate, well, the talking filibuster, in which senators can hold off a bill as long as they can keep talking, but cannot simply block a final vote without significant effort, has a rich history. 

The filibuster is not that sacrosanct, in other words. Manchin and Sinema just don’t really want to pass voting rights legislation. Manchin had even guided the shape of the legislation up for a vote—it was filled with things that supposedly had his full commitment. But minority rule in the Senate overrode any concern he might have for restoring the Voting Rights Act or establishing basic national standards for elections. 

Sinema was enjoying what she clearly saw as her McCain-saving-the-Affordable-Care-Act moment, reveling in the congratulations of a series of Republican senators after her vote. For this, she’ll lose her EMILY’s List endorsement, which has been a major source of campaign funding. But she clearly thinks her position will help move her on to bigger things. 

Manchin claims to want to stick with the history of the Senate (in the form of the filibuster) and promote bipartisanship, but he refused to acknowledge the history of the filibuster or how the talking filibuster—in a proposal that would have allowed each senator to delay a final vote by speaking for as long as they wanted, twice—would encourage the bipartisanship he claims to cherish.

Sen. Jeff Merkley explained: “The talking filibuster says you have leverage and you can slow things down, but you have an incentive to negotiate because you’re doing the painful work of being on the floor. And the majority has an incentive to negotiate because they’re in the painful situation of floor-time being eaten up by the minority—and that’s the most valuable thing we have.”

But as for bipartisanship, here’s the leader of the Republicans Manchin claims to think he could negotiate with on voting rights. Wednesday evening, asked by reporter Pablo Manríquez what he would say to voters of color concerned about voting rights, McConnell said, “The concern is misplaced,” because, get this, “if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

African American voters … vs. Americans. Well. That pretty much tells us where McConnell stands, doesn’t it? “Said the quiet part out loud” has been a badly overused phrase in recent years, but it’s true that McConnell was articulating in so many words a position underlying Republican voting policy and Republican understanding of the legitimacy of Democratic victories.

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Manchin and Sinema had the chance to kill voting rights and reject the restoration of the talking filibuster because this is how every Republican in the Senate thinks. Including the “bipartisan” ones who would require a fainting couch, their voices quavering with indignation, at the suggestion.




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