Manchin and Sinema make their choice: Defend the filibuster or democracy

There is no such thing as 10 good Republicans. Can Manchin and Sinema give up "bipartisan" fantasies?

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 22, 2021 1:05PM (EDT)

Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It's unclear if Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is an idiot or is just pretending to be for some ulterior reason. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because she reminded Americans this week that there is nothing, not even destroying democracy, that Republicans can do that will convince her that it's important to let the party that won power in the 2020 election — her own party! — govern. Worse, she refuses to take extremely basic measures to prevent the Republicans from enshrining themselves into permanent minority rule. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is making the unusual move of bringing up the For the People Act, Democrats' marquee voting rights and campaign finance reform bill, for a vote on a motion to proceed to debate, despite knowing that Republicans are absolutely going to filibuster it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a sad sign of how routine Republican obstruction has become, rarely has to bother to even have his caucus show up to block a floor debate. Merely signaling that they plan to filibuster — which Republicans do on nearly every bill the Democratic majority wants to pass — is usually enough to keep the majority from even trying to start debate. 

But this is a voting rights bill just as Republicans have waged an all-out assault on democracy

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As Schumer explained on Monday, there is an emergency need to pass such legislation, because, "Donald Trump, with his despicable lies, has lit a fire beneath Republican state legislatures, and they have launched the most sweeping voter suppression efforts in at least, in at least 80 years." 

The For the People Act has the support of not just Joe Biden's White House, but of former president Barack Obama, who told CNN earlier this month that "one of our major political parties is willing to embrace a way of thinking about our democracy that would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago."

Back in the Senate, which Democrats control by the slimmest of margins, a set of Democrats remain curiously unconvinced. 

Sinema's own ability to get re-elected is threatened by Arizona Republicans who are busy passing laws making it easier for the GOP to steal her next election from her. She claims even to agree with Democratic leaders about the importance of voting rights. In a Washington Post op-ed published mere hours after Schumer announced the vote for the voting rights bill on Monday, Sinema sanctimoniously noted that it is "voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored." 

But, of course, those words are worthless without action to make it law and, in this op-ed, Sinema makes it quite clear that she is ready and willing to make sure absolutely no voting rights legislation will pass through the Senate. She remains committed to the filibuster even though that effectively means she's giving Republicans in her own state the power to block her voters from either accessing the ballot or having their votes fairly counted.

And what's her excuse for letting Republicans have total veto power over any legislation to protect voting rights? Yep, the supposed glories of "bipartisanship." 

"The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles," she wrote, arguing that if Democrats actually pass a voting rights bill by killing the filibuster, the next time Republicans have power, we'll "see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority." 

But as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out, "we already live in that world" because "voting restrictions of all kinds are being passed into law by Republican-controlled legislative majorities, over the objections of minorities." The only way to stop it from continuing is for the Democratic majority in the Senate to pass a law banning such abuses. Nearly every Democrat in Congress wants to do this. Only a few holdouts like Sinema, seemingly swayed by the intoxicating power of having more ego than sense, are preventing the protection of our democracy. 

Where Sinema gets this idea that only Democrats have the power to nuke the filibuster if they're in the majority is anyone's guess, but it is a profoundly ahistorical and plain stupid notion. If Republicans want to pass a voter ID law when they have the majority next — which will be much easier for them to get, with states changing laws to make it much easier for the GOP to cheat — all they need to do is what they did when they wanted to confirm a Supreme Court judge in 2017, which was end the filibuster. Anyone who thinks that McConnell will hesitate to do whatever he feels is necessary to get more power is either an idiot or simply pretending to be for some nefarious purpose. 

In her op-ed, Sinema warns that ending the filibuster would mean "escalating all-or-nothing political battles that result in no action." But, of course, what Tuesday's vote will demonstrate is that that's already a serious problem. The filibuster is only making it worse by giving Republicans near-absolute power to keep the Democratic majority from passing any major legislation. Republicans are quite clear that they want all the power and to get it, they will give Democrats nothing. 

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Tuesday's vote is expected to be filibustered by Republicans, something Schumer and the White House have not bothered to hide. It's meant to be a demonstration to Sinema and to West Virginia's Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has also stubbornly defended the filibuster, that there is no such thing as any kind of voting rights bill that Republicans will support. For instance, this bill that is being filed can be amended in a multitude of ways, including any and all of the compromises that Manchin offered at the last minute in a delusional bid to win over Republican support. Of course, it hardly matters how much it can be tweaked because the Republican strategy is the full-on obstruction of everything Democrats want to do. That goes double for any bill meant to protect democracy, as democracy is what Republicans see as the main obstacle to their goal: permanent minority rule. 

There's still some lingering hope that Manchin will be swayed. He did, after all, go to all of the effort to put forward a compromise plan that was supposed to address Republican concerns regarding voter fraud, only to have McConnell immediately tear it up like Cersei Lannister mocking Ned Stark. Perhaps that will irritate Manchin's ego enough to tip him over into the realm of reality and basic sense.

But Sinema, with her op-ed, has made it clear that she is impervious to being moved by reason, evidence, experience, and even a base desire to win the next election. It's hard to believe that democracy for the rest of us hangs in the balance and what is tipping the scales towards authoritarianism is one Arizona senator's childish inability to admit that she might have been wrong. Not only is American democracy dying, it doesn't even get a death with dignity. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Chuck Schumer Commentary Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mitch Mcconnell Voting Rights