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June 17, 2021
Early in the morning on this date in 1972, Frank Wills, a 24-year-old security guard at the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C., noticed that a door lock had been wedged open. He closed the door, but when he went on the next round, he found the door wedged open again. He called the police, who found five burglars in the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the building.
And so it began.
I’m not going to write about that story tonight. I just think it’s cool.
But there are plenty of other stories to write about.
Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, for the third time, with only two justices voting no. The court did not take on the central issue in the case, which is the argument that the law became unconstitutional in 2017 after Congress took away the penalty for failing to obtain coverage under the law. In 2012, the court decided that the mandate fell under Congress’s power to assess taxes. Republicans—who took away that penalty—argued that removing it meant that Congress no longer had the power to impose the law.
Rather than taking on that issue, the justices simply decided that those suing did not have the standing to sue. But as the law becomes more and more popular, it seems increasingly unlikely the Supreme Court will kill it. “This ruling reaffirms what we have long known to be true: the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” former president Barack Obama tweeted.
And then there’s Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who has stood firm against the Democrats’ For the People Act, which would make it easier to vote, prohibit partisan gerrymandering, and keep big money out of politics, along with a number of other reforms.
Yesterday, Manchin released a list of the proposals he is willing to support in the bill, including requirements for early voting, automatic voter registration, and an end to partisan gerrymandering. He has also called for making Election Day a federal holiday. And he has called for adjustments to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, designed to restore some of the provisions stripped out of the 1964 Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. The Senate is not currently considering that measure.
This morning, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams of Georgia said she “absolutely” supports Manchin’s plan. She told CNN: “What Senator Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible no matter your geography.” Abrams defended the voter ID proposal Manchin included, saying “That’s one of the fallacies of Republican talking points that have been deeply disturbing—no one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote….I support voter identification. I reject restrictive voter identification designed to keep people out of the process.”
Even if Manchin’s changes can be included in the bill—which will come up for a vote next week—his support will not be enough to pass the measure, because the filibuster will permit just 41 Republicans to kill it. Manchin has insisted that he can find Republicans willing to act in a bipartisan fashion to pass measures in the normal course of business. Observers note that there is not yet a Republican who has stepped forward to volunteer to be the other half of that equation.
Indeed, Republican Party leaders immediately opposed Manchin’s plan. As soon as Abrams had indicated her support for Manchin’s proposals, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) obscured the fact they came from a conservative Democrat reaching out to Republicans, and instead associated them with someone caricatured on the right as an extremist. “When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Senator Manchin’s proposal,” Blunt said, “it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) immediately followed suit. Republican leaders clearly recognize that a fair voting system works against them.
So how does this play out? Manchin has insisted that he wants voting legislation to pass on a bipartisan basis, but will the bad faith of the Republican leadership weaken his stance?
Well, the other interesting piece of news related to Manchin is that a tape published by The Intercept yesterday shows him saying he is willing to make some crucial changes to the filibuster. He appears interested in lowering the number of votes needed to end debate to 55, rather than 60, and in forcing the minority to have to find 41 votes to continue a filibuster rather than asking the majority to find 60 to defeat it. This would put the weight on the fervent minority eager to stop a measure rather than on the majority trying to pass it.
Manchin also has suggested returning to the traditional talking filibuster, which would require an investment of time and energy on the part of the minority. Theoretically, actually using time to oppose a bill would enable the minority to explain to voters why the legislation in question is a bad idea. In reality, since the Republicans are taking stands against quite popular measures, they are unlikely to agree to this return to old practices.
The final item that jumps out from the day is a story out of Florida. A recorded phone conversation apparently shows Republican William Braddock, who is running for Congress, threatening to hire assassins to eliminate his main opponent in the race, Anna Paulina Luna, who won the primary last year but lost the election to Democrat Charlie Crist. The conservative activist to whom Braddock was speaking recorded him saying that he has access to a “Russian and Ukrainian hit squad” and that “for the good of our country, we have to sacrifice the few.” “I am in deep, I will admit that,” he allegedly said. “If I lose, I’m going to have to move out of the country. But if I win, I’m going to help make a difference for everyone in the country.”
This unhinged story seems to me to show the desperation of certain Republicans as they become increasingly entrenched in the idea that they are fighting a holding action against a world they see as unthinkable. Meanwhile, even this originalist-dominated Supreme Court appears to understand that the world is changing.
Which route will the Senate take?
[Image: Security Officer's Log of the Watergate Office Building Showing Entry for June 17, 1972, National Archives]