Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times writes, Sinema and Manchin’s Nihilistic Bipartisanship:

We are in the eye of the storm of American democratic collapse. There is, outwardly, a feeling of calm. The Biden administration is competent and placid. The coronavirus emergency is receding nationally, if not internationally. Donald Trump, once the most powerful man on earth and the emperor of the news cycle, is now a failed blogger under criminal investigation.

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Yet in red states, Trump’s party, motivated by his big lie about his 2020 loss, is systematically changing electoral rules to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote and, should Democrats win anyway, easier for Republicans to overturn elections.

[R]epublicans have an excellent chance of gerrymandering their way to control of the House in 2022, whether or not they increase their vote share. A Republican-dominated House is unlikely to smoothly ratify even a clear Democratic presidential victory in 2024. We may be living through a brief interregnum before American democracy is strangled for a generation.

Two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, could save us by joining their colleagues in breaking the filibuster and passing new voting rights legislation. But they prefer not to.

On Tuesday, Sinema, touring migrant facilities with her Texas Republican colleague John Cornyn, defended the filibuster by spouting an alternative history nearly as delusional as Trump’s claims to have actually won the election. “The idea of the filibuster was created by those who came before us in the United States Senate to create comity and to encourage senators to find bipartisanship and work together,” she said.

This is nonsense. The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it.

More than any other type of legislation, the filibuster was used in the 20th century to derail civil rights bills, from anti-lynching measures to bans on housing discrimination. During Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans began using it to an unprecedented degree to block his nominations. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, “Out of the 168 cloture motions ever filed (or reconsidered) on nominations, 82 (49 percent) were cloture motions on nominations made since 2009.” The filibuster’s history is both ignominious and ever-changing.

It is impossible to know whether Sinema believes what she said, or whether she simply doesn’t care. Both she and Manchin are committed to bipartisanship as a supreme good, which in practice means bowing to the wishes of a party that doesn’t believe Joe Biden is a legitimate president and wants above all to see him fail. (“One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said last month.)

When you have a system that’s not working effectively, said Sinema, “the way to fix that is to change your behavior,” not the rules. This is a bizarre stance for a legislator, whose work is all about changing rules. But it also ignores the fact that the system is working perfectly well for Republicans.

Democrats hope that Manchin, who has said Democrats should have faith that there are “10 good people” in the Republican caucus, will lessen his opposition to filibuster reform when Senate Republicans repeatedly prove him wrong. It’s harder to know what Sinema actually believes and thus what could sway her; she seems above all dedicated to a view of herself as a quirky maverick, and delights in trolling the Democrats who elected her. In April, after infuriating progressives by voting against including a federal minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package, she posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing a ring spelling out a dismissive obscene phrase that begins with “F” and ends with “off.”

This gap between the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair. Democrats have no discernible leverage over Manchin and little over Sinema, though they ought to consider primarying her. (Unlike Manchin, she’s not the only Democrat who could win a Senate seat in her state.) Those who want our democracy to endure have no choice but to keep asking, imploring and cajoling these two lawmakers to value it above the false idol of bipartisanship, but so far there’s little sign they will.

So we’re stuck. The overarching story of American politics right now is that Republicans are laying the groundwork to accomplish legally what they failed to do by force on Jan. 6. Sinema could help fortify our country against a tide of Trumpist authoritarianism that could soon wash away everything that makes it worthwhile. Instead she’s showing us her ring.

Everything Kyrsten Sinema says about the Senate filibuster (does she even believe what she says?) is FALSE.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine explains, The Fake History of the Filibuster Won’t Die: Senators keep repeating a made-up origin story:

Advocates of the Senate filibuster can be proud of one thing. They have successfully carried out an extraordinarily effective propaganda campaign. They have convinced much of the country — and, more importantly, many members of the Senate itself — to believe in a completely made-up version of American history.

The imaginary history has been repeated so often that people “know” it to be true and can rattle off its fictional elements when pressed to supply a reason why they support an institution that no overseas democracy, and none of the 50 state governments, have copied.

[F]irst, the filibuster was not “created to bring together members of different parties.” Political parties did not exist when the Constitution was written, and the Founders famously failed to anticipate their central role in the system.

The filibuster emerged in the 19th century not by any design, but, as Brookings scholar and Senate expert Sarah Binder has explained, due to an interpretation of Senate rules which held that they omitted any process for ending debate. The first filibuster did not happen until 1837, and it was the result of exploiting this confusing rules glitch.

Second, the Founders not only did not create the filibuster, they specifically rejected a supermajority voting requirement. (They didn’t like having a chamber where every state had equal votes regardless of size, either, but they had to agree to it, for the same reason they had to accept the three-fifths clause: They were politicians, and they couldn’t wrangle enough votes for the Constitution without compromising their principles to do it.) They created a supermajority requirement for a handful of special votes, like a treaty or Constitutional amendment, but rejected such a requirement for normal legislation.

As Alexander Hamilton explained in “The Federalist Papers”:

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 number …The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been formed upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But it’s real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.

And finally, the filibuster was not created to “protect the rights of the minority from the majority.” It was originally a rules glitch. In the early-20th century, it was whittled down to a two-thirds supermajority requirement that, by practice, was reserved mainly for use in blocking civil-rights bills. That compromise was “not a statement of the Senate’s love for supermajority rules,” Binder explains, but “the product of hard-nose bargaining with an obstructive minority.” In 1975, the threshold was reduced to 60 percent. At various times, Democrats have had more Senators than either the two-thirds or the three-fifths threshold, so the filibuster did not protect minority parties.

In sum, the Founders did not create the filibuster. It emerged accidentally, was changed repeatedly, and was not “designed” for any purpose, and most certainly not to give the minority party a veto. It’s no more true than George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. It’s a story people made up to rationalize a system that nobody invented because nobody ever would create a system like this on purpose.

When Sen. Kyrsten Sinema spouts her false nonsense about the Senate filibuster rule, the only appropriate response is to quote her nasty little ring back to her: “F_ck off.” She is appeasing the GQP war on democracy for a falsehood. She could save American democracy “by joining her colleagues in breaking the filibuster and passing new voting rights legislation. But she prefers not to.”

UPDATE: Kyrsten Sinema gets The Onion treatment.




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