Democrats find themselves on a sticky wicket. They now control the presidency, the House and the Senate, and have a chance to protect voting rights. But Republicans seem unified and emboldened by defeat to fight tooth and nail against democracy itself.
The Brennan Center is tracking some “389 bills with restrictive provisions in 48 states” at a time when, according to Pew, “just 28% of Republicans and Republican leaners say everything possible should be done to make voting easy.” More than 50 percent of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the last election was stolen from their orange idol.
So it’s up to Democrats to save democracy, but they don’t seem to be in control of their own party or up to the challenge, as we saw Tuesday when the “For the People Act” fell predictably short in the Senate. One big reason why is Sen. Joe Manchin, who actually voted to advance the bill but who has steadfastly opposed ending the filibuster, which means it stands no chance without the support of 10 sane Republicans, and there are not 10 sane Republicans to back it or, likely, to back his slimmed-down alternative.
But Manchin at least has an excuse for his defense of the filibuster that ensured the voting rights bill fell short, and that the rest of the party’s agenda will as well: He is the only Democrat who could possibly hold on in West Virginia, a state where Trump won 68.6 percent of the vote in 2020. His partner in partisan pettifoggery, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, has no excuse at all for her defense of the filibuster.
She tried to provide one in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, an essay in defense of the filibuster. But the filibuster is largely indefensible. According to Sinema, “The best way to achieve durable, lasting results? Bipartisan cooperation” since, she argues, bills that are passed on a party line vote will be reversed when Republicans come back into power. Of course, this wasn’t true for Obamacare, nor was it true earlier this year when Democrats passed the American Rescue Act, which soon became so popular that Republicans tried to take credit for it, pretending they had supported it all along.
GOP voters pretty much agree with Democratic Senators about infrastructure and voting rights. But GOP Senators are completely uninterested in what their voters want. Like Groucho Marx, whatever it is, they’re against it.
It’s a real MAGA moment, as Sinema pretends that she’s living in a pre-Trump world, even as her defense of bipartisanship is oddly Trumpian in her hostility towards the media with her dig about how “bipartisanship seems outdated to many pundits.” But it’s not that her fellow Democrats are against bipartisanship—it’s that Republicans are no longer even pretending to negotiate in good faith.
Maybe Sinema missed what happened on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters violently tried to overturn the election and hang Mike Pence, and even after that eight of her fellow senators voted to overturn a free and fair election because it didn’t go their way. These people have no interest in bipartisanship; they don’t even want democracy anymore.
Ultimately Sinema argues that she doesn’t support getting rid of the filibuster because the filibuster protects democracy as “Instability, partisanship and tribalism continue to infect our politics. The solution, however, is not to continue weakening our democracy’s guardrails.”
It’s a pretty amazing statement considering the precarious state our democracy is in. The guardrails are already real fucking weak. Democrats are trying to pass the For the People Act to repair them while there’s still time, and as the other party is working extremely hard to undermine democracy with countless state bills doing everything from making it illegal to bring voters water to making it so that partisans can overturn results they don’t like.
Maybe Sinema didn’t just miss Jan. 6 but the whole Trump presidency. Arguing for the preservation of the filibuster is like getting a nose job when you need your arm reattached.
Naturally she doesn’t even mention reconciliation, which you’ll remember as the thing Mitch McConnell used to pass Arctic drilling and tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats could use it to pass some things now, including at least some voting rights protections, and why shouldn’t they try? Sure, the parliamentarian needs to agree but the parliamentarian is just making things up as she goes along.
“We can’t wait until the next election,” President Obama told the Post, using the exact opposite logic as the addled senator from Arizona, “because if we have the same kinds of shenanigans that brought about Jan. 6, if we have that for a couple more election cycles, we’re going to have real problems in terms of our democracy long-term.”
The idea that Democrats shouldn’t do things because Republicans might undo them is utterly and totally preposterous, and it is the foundation of Sinema’s Why Even Try doctrine. I don’t know why Sinema doesn’t want to bother trying, but the people of Arizona sent her to Washington to try.
Manchin may be a unicorn, but Sinema is not one. Her state is blueing rapidly, and a primary challenger in 2024 is not only possible but at this point likely. In the hopes of appearing bipartisan, Sinema may be dooming Democrats’ last best shot at preserving democracy.