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Sinema’s Befuddlement Sinks Democrats’ Voting Rights Bills

The Senate had just passed an exception to the filibuster rule, permitting a simple 51-vote majority to increase the debt ceiling. So there was logical surmise that a similar exception would be fitting, not for matters of general policy, but surely for matters related to the Constitution. The debt ceiling increase was so
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

that the government can pay its bills, but before the Senate are two voting rights measures that seek to protect the very democracy.

But then, in a singular act of chutzpah, Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema jumped the line in front of the president, due to visit the Congress an hour later, to preempt his last-minute plea on behalf of the two bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act , by announcing that she would not vote for any alteration of the Senate filibuster rule. Hadn't she just weeks before done exactly that for the debt ceiling?

With all 50 Republicans in the Senate aligned against them, the voting rights bills can only be passed by specially setting aside the filibuster so that a simple majority vote will make them law. But the votes of all 50 Senate Democratic vote would be needed. Sinema put an end to that. So presumably would West Virginia's Joe Manchin, but it was Ms Sinema who went on the Senate floor to deliver a speech.

leading from behind

Sinema decried the "spiral of division" that has…

"… now fueled efforts in several states that will make it more difficult for Americans to vote and undermine faith that all Americans should have in our elections and our democracy".

She shares the concerns of civil rights activists that she's heard from agreeing that these…

"…state laws have no place in a nation whose government is formed by free, fair and open election"

.She "strongly supports" efforts to…

"…invest significant resources into these states to better organize and stop efforts to restrict access at the ballot box",

… urging that they "contest these laws in court". Thus does Sinema hand the problem to others while declining to do her part.

logic turned on its head

She professes her support for the two bills. They…

"…strengthen American access to the ballot box and they better assure that Americans' votes are counted fairly…It is through elections that Americans make their voices heard, select their representatives and guide the future of our country and our community."

Whatever you, reading this, may think of the proposed legislation, what stands out is Ms Sinema's befuddlement: She strongly opposes the harmful state laws (passed by simple majorities, incidentally) and "strongly supports" the voting rights bills that would block many of those state laws, only to send them to their grave by choosing as more important a Senate rule rather than preserving American democracy.

A rule is all it is and arguably unconstitutional at that, a fact that Joe Manchin, he of similar mind as Sinema, doesn't seem to know. Asked to explain why he favors retention of the 60-vote minimum to pass almost all legislation, he revealed extraordinary ignorance of so prominent a Senate practice as the filibuster by saying the rule shouldn't be changed because it's "what we've always had for 232 years". That takes us back to 1780, which says he thinks the filibuster is found somewhere in the Constitution.

Quite the opposite is found. The Articles of Confederation was rejected for a number of reasons, one of them being that it required a super-majority of nine of the thirteen states to pass legislation, severely limiting the new nation's progress. When they met to draft the Constitution to replace the articles, the authors retained the super-majority requirement of two-thirds of the votes to only five matters:

 Impeachment

  Expulsion of members

  Override of a presidential veto

  Ratification of treaties

  Amendments to the Constitution.

These explicit exceptions infer the implicit default of simple majority rule for all else. James Madison's prescient comments in Federalist Papers #58 make that clear. He effectively looks ahead to our time when he says that with a super-majority requirement…

"…the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed…It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.”

Alexander Hamilton in #22 says the same:

"To give a minority a negative upon the majority … is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser…We forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary,"

The Constitution's authors were emphatic majoritarians. Manchin and Sinema have fallen for an unconstitutional falsehood out of ignorance of the democracy the founders invented…or are they fronting for some unadmitted special interests? Follow the money they've been raising. Don't they even know that before 1975, a talking filibuster was required? If so fond of tradition, why have they not at least pressed for a return to the true filibuster, where the minority must argue its position without pause around the clock, with the minority present for a vote at any time, a rule that puts the onus on the minority not the majority.

Sinema went on to say about the filibuster:

"...Senators of both parties have offered ideas including to make this body more productive, more deliberative, more responsive to America's needs, and a place of genuine debate about our country's pressing issues…[T]his week's harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have, and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year…"

This would be nice but pays no recognition to the current reality of Senate that no longer deliberates, to a filibuster that itself was meant for exhaustive debate by the opposition to a proposed law, to a filibuster that needs only to be implicitly threatened for a bill to not even reach the Senate floor. Republicans blocked debate of the voting bills. Biden's hope of countering restrictive state laws is thwarted by Sinema's dreamy wish well out of touch with reality.

About the filibuster she says:

"There's no need to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy… A guardrail…which in reality insures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process."

In reality it perpetually hands not just a voice but control to the losing party, giving it the power to block all legislation other than budgetary that the winning party was elected to accomplish.

And does she not foresee what will happen after this fleeting year in which something might have been accomplished by her party? Republicans are assured of taking over both House and Senate in this year's midterm elections. That returns Mitch McConnell to the role of majority leader of the Senate. Republicans will not then be worried about Ms Sinema's concern for "wild reversals in federal policy" when control passes between parties. Republicans expect to be in control for many years — the consummation of their long drive to take control of the nation. The Party has armed itself with a decade of gerrymandering afforded by the 2020 census, tightened voting laws enacted in states they control, and laws in several states that even allow their legislatures to overturn the votes of their public.

Buoyed by that surety, McConnell will get rid of the filibuster altogether. Power is his only concern; he will allow nothing to stand in the way of passing whatever laws his party comes up with, his fellow senators locked in step behind him as we have watched for years.

Far fetched? McConnell has shown he cannot be trusted. He has been on full display of having no scruples. He ignored the Constitution's requirement of "advice and consent" to block for a year Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court on the phony grounds that in his last year in office a sitting president has no right to choose a justice. He then turned that on its head when a Supreme Court opening again occurred during a president's possible (actual, as it turned out) last day in office, cramming through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just two weeks before the 2020 election.

Even Ms Sinema might then come to realize that "ill may be produced" from how naïve and foolish she is.

2 Comments for “Sinema’s Befuddlement Sinks Democrats’ Voting Rights Bills”

  1. When an article appears on a website without attribution to an individual, is it correct to assume that the opinions are those of the website’s owners, moderators or editors?

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