Thursday, March 25, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson on Combating the Republican Party’s “Rigging of the System”

Heather Cox Richardson is a political historian and the author of How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She also regularly posts a dispatch on her Facebook page in which she “uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics.”

In her latest dispatch, Heather examines the interconnected significance of the American Rescue Plan, the “For the People Act,” and the Senate’s filibuster procedure. Following is an excerpt.

The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal pre-kindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.

They are reclaiming the government for the American people.

But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.

To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”

The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.

Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.

Heather Cox Richardson
via Facebook
March 22, 2021


UPDATE: This evening (March 25) Heather Cox Richardson posted another dispatch on the need to either abolish or significantly reform the Senate’s filibuster rule. If it’s not, writes Heather, the United States “will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.”

Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.

This is the only story [. . .] historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the “For the People Act,” which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

The “For the People Act,” passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the “For the People Act.”

They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

The story today is not about coronavirus vaccines, or border solutions, or economic recovery, because all of those things depended on the election of Joe Biden. If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.

Related Off-site Links:
Abolish the Filibuster Now – William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut, March 9, 2021).
“It Has to Go”: The Demand to End Filibuster Intensifies in U.S. Senate – Brett Wilkins (Common Dreams, March 5, 2021).
Senate Democrats Can and Must Abolish the Filibuster. Now – Robert Reich ( via Common Dreams, February 28, 2021).
As House Passes the "For the People Act" Without One GOP Vote, Progressives Warn Bill Is 'Dead' If Senate Filibuster Remains – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, March 4, 2021).
Voter Suppression and the Filibuster: More Confederate Monuments to Tear Down – Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan (Democracy Now!, March 4, 2021).
End the Filibuster: Calls Grow to Retire Relic of Slavery and Jim Crow to Make Senate More DemocraticDemocracy Now! (January 25, 2021).
We May Be One Election From Permanent Minority Rule – Peter Certo (In These Times, March 8, 2021).
Making Senators Pay a Price for Filibustering – Caroline Fredrickson (Brennen Center for Justice, March 16, 2021).
McConnell Threatens to Make Senate Look Like “100-Car Pileup” If Filibuster Ends – Sharon Zhang (TruthOut, March 16, 2021).
Biden Backs Filibuster Rule Change That Has McConnell Warning of “Scorched Earth” Battle – Sharon Zhang (Associated Press via ABC News, March 17, 2021).
Time to Call Mitch McConnell’s Bluff on the Filibuster – William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut, March 17, 2021).

UPDATES: Senate Republicans Block January 6 Commission With First Filibuster of Biden PresidencyAxios (May 28, 2021).
Biden Calls for Changes to the Senate’s Filibuster to Pass Voting Rights Bills – Alana Wise (NPR News, January 11, 2022).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sen. Tina Smith: The Filibuster Rule Is “Fundamentally Undemocratic”
Something to Think About – March 9, 2021
Republicans Don't Care About American Democracy
“The Republican Party Has Now Made It Official: They Are a Cult”

For more of Heather Cox Richardson’s insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Heather Cox Richardson on the Origin of the American Obsession with “Socialism”
Heather Cox Richardson on the Unravelling of President Trump
Heather Cox Richardson on the Movement Conservatism Roots of the Energy Crisis in Texas
Insurrection at the United States Capitol
Election Eve Thoughts
Progressive Perspectives on Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Amy Coney Barrett
Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket
“Fascism Is Upon Us”

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