September 29, 2021

We are coming down to the wire for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

This bill was hammered out earlier in September by a group of senators trying to find common ground with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who objected to the sweeping For the People Act passed by the House. The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.

This defense of voting is popular. A Data for Progress poll found that 70% of likely voters support the act. That number includes 85% of self-identified Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans.

Manchin maintains that he can find 10 Republican senators to join the Democrats to get 60 votes, enabling the measure to overcome a Republican filibuster. But there is, so far, no sign that those votes are materializing, and every day that goes by brings us closer to having gerrymandered district lines hardened into place before the 2022 election. Indeed, the stonewalling by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of Democratic attempts to lift the debt ceiling is wasting time that otherwise would be given to the voting rights bill.

If Manchin cannot find ten Republican votes, the measure will die unless the Senate agrees to block a filibuster on it, as it has done for judicial appointments. A simple majority cannot pass it, even though the 50 Democratic senators (who would make a majority of 51 if Vice President Kamala Harris were called in to break a tie) represent about 40.5 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators. (The U.S. has about 328 million people.)

It is imperative that this bill become law. Without it, the Republicans will almost certainly regain control of Congress, and with new voter suppression and election-counting laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states, they will likely command the Electoral College as well. Once installed in power, will this particular incarnation of the Republican Party ever again permit a Democratic victory?

Congress today illustrated the importance of making sure all Americans have the right to choose their lawmakers.

The media focused on the intraparty fighting of the Democrats over a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is supposed to be linked to the $1 trillion bipartisan package, but it is important to remember that the only reason anyone is even discussing an infrastructure package is because voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helped so many Georgians register to vote in 2020 that they were able to overcome Republican roadblocks and elect two Democratic senators. Without Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff, the two men who gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate to shift the majority from the Republicans, we would not be having this discussion at all.

Both infrastructure bills are popular. Americans support the bipartisan bill by 51% to 19% (with 30% unsure). About 62% of Americans like the larger package, despite a price tag that seems larger than it really is, since it spreads out funding for ten years. Even among Republicans, more like it than dislike it, at 47% to 44%.

But it took months of negotiations to secure the ten Republican votes necessary on the smaller package to get it past a filibuster of the other Republican senators, and the Republicans are united in their opposition to the larger bill.

Our right to vote was also on the table as our most effective tool for stopping the Republican Party’s current fall into authoritarianism.

After yesterday’s hearing in the Senate, Senator Angus King (I-ME) told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee had had only one hearing all last year when the Republicans were in control of the Senate. Washington reporter Laura Rozen recounted the conversation on Twitter. Since the Democrats retook control of the Senate, King said, they have held five hearings. But he pointed out that senators in yesterday’s hearing spent a great deal of time asking questions about the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a decision made by former president Trump and unquestioned either as he made it or as he quickly began withdrawing troops. King noted that those questions should have been asked a year ago.

In today’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans defended the former president and attacked the man who helped to stop his takeover of the U.S. government, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

They insisted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was “an extraordinary disaster” that “will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership,” although it was former president Trump who set the terms of the withdrawal and tried to make it happen in the dead of winter, which would almost certainly not have permitted the successful airlift of 130,000 Americans and allies that the military ultimately pulled off. (Interestingly, Milley also explained that U.S. commanders missed that the Afghan army and government would crumble because the withdrawal of tactical advisers over the past few years hurt U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.)

Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) did not simply defend Trump, though. They demanded that Milley resign. Gaetz repeatedly interrupted and berated the general, who has served the United States in uniform for more than 40 years—two years longer than Gaetz has been alive.

The attacks on Milley were not simply partisanship. They are part of a longer crusade of the pro-Trump forces against the man who stood against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. For months now, right-wing media has attacked Milley and called for his ouster, complaining that his support for minority rights and desire to understand white rage has weakened the military.

Finally, the importance of our right to choose our lawmakers showed up in today’s fight over funding the government before the end of the day tomorrow, when funding passed as part of a huge package in December 2020 ends.

Democrats tried earlier to pass a funding bill that also addressed the debt ceiling, only to have Senate Republicans filibuster it, falsely claiming that raising the debt ceiling was a free pass for Democrats to spend on their infrastructure bill (in fact, lifting the ceiling permits the government to pay debts already incurred, and the Democrats want to pay for their infrastructure bill by clawing back some of the tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy the Republicans passed in 2017). But if Congress doesn’t pass a funding bill, the government will have to shut down, likely hobbling the economic recovery.

So, tonight, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced he will bring a bill to the Senate floor tomorrow for a vote. From there, it will go to the House and should be in front of President Joe Biden for his signature before midnight. The bill is “clean,” as Republicans demanded, in that it doesn’t include the debt ceiling issue. But Republicans did secure the right to offer amendments. According to Washington Post reporter Tony Romm, Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) plans to try to add to the bill a provision to stop the government from enforcing Biden’s vaccine mandate on companies with more than 100 workers.

House Democrats passed a bill raising the debt ceiling today, but Republican senators are expected to kill it. The clock will continue to tick down toward a U.S. default on its debt… and on Congress’s ability to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

Notes:

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/freedom-vote-act

https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2021/9/24/a-supermajority-of-voters-support-the-freedom-to-vote-act

https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/353582/public-opinion-trillion-senate-budget-plan.aspx

https://www.newsweek.com/more-republicans-support-bidens-35-trillion-spending-bill-oppose-poll-1616531

https://www.vox.com/2021/1/6/22215728/senate-anti-democratic-one-number-raphael-warnock-jon-ossoff-georgia-runoffs

https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2021/08/04/americans-support-infrastructure-bill-poll

https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/09/29/senate-funding-government-shutdown/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/29/us/politics/house-hearing-milley-austin-afghanistan.html

https://www.axios.com/house-democrats-pass-bill-raise-debt-limit-03207c99-bf50-4cac-a2c1-5d6ac1202108.html

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