Senator Manchin, Tear Down That Filibuster – An Open Letter

12 mins read

Senator, I get it.

You want to do the right thing. 

Maybe you want to protect democracy. It’s honorable that you’re looking to restore bipartisanship to the Senate. Or perhaps you’re concerned about the future, and if Republicans regain control of Congress they will stick it to the Democrats — and, by extension, the American people — every way they can.  

But sir, the filibuster does not override the Constitution. It cannot stand in the way of inalienable rights conferred upon American citizens by our founding fathers. You have unambiguously voiced your support for the protection of voting rights. You know that if Republicans misuse this power, they can impede progress that West Virginians desperately need. Better jobs. Improved infrastructure. A stronger environment. It all depends on the ability to vote. So you must understand that if the filibuster threatens passage of the For the People Act, it cannot remain inviolate. At minimum, it must be fixed to deal with exigencies like voting rights, or you must consider eliminating it completely.

You might genuinely believe it’s necessary to keep these arcane parliamentary rules so we can preserve balance in American governance. Your intentions are laudable. But if saving these precepts in their current form means that some citizens — mostly Black Americans — will lose the right to vote, there can be no discussion. You must protect the franchise, even at the risk of destroying any remaining shred of comity between Democrats and Republicans. There are fundamental principles at stake here which must be held inviolate, as opposed to the notion of reaching an arbitrarily determined supermajority. And this discussion doesn’t even consider the racially tinged history of the filibuster, which further validates the argument for reform.

So far, 11 states have passed 25 laws that suppress the right to vote. Of course, all of these governments are controlled by Republicans. There are still 200 bills pending with 63 standing a good chance of becoming law. Truly, Republican state legislatures are eroding democracy right before our very eyes.

If Congress had two parties that acted in good faith and could work together to halt the dismantling of the Constitution, perhaps your desire to keep the filibuster as it is might remain plausible. But that is clearly not the case. It hasn’t been true for a very long time. For instance, in 2009, when President Obama offered to put Every. Single. One. of Chuck Grassley’s amendments into the Affordable Care Act, the senator still demurred. This lesson was reinforced only a few days ago, when Ted Cruz stated that the For The People Act is a no-go for him — even if all the amendments he proposes are included within the bill. During ACA negotiations, people ultimately surmised that Grassley was not negotiating in good faith and was just trying to delay movement on the law until it could be killed in the Senate. Whether or not Cruz is trying this same tactic, what purpose does it serve to negotiate with him if he never has any intention of voting for the bill.

In fact, why would you discuss any laws with any Republicans when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has cynically proclaimed that his entire focus lies not with governing, but with preventing President Biden from passing any legislation?

You have seen the damage Republican obstruction can cause, even on issues as monumentally important and uncontroversial as forming a commission to study the January 6 insurrection.  You correctly decried their recalcitrance as making you “really concerned about our country.”  And while an investigation of the Trump coup need not depend on a commission, as congressional committees can conduct hearings, our voting rights require protection that only legislation can confer.

Senator Manchin, if America cannot even depend on Republicans to support an inquiry into an attack on Congress itself, while it was performing its most sacred duty, how can we possibly believe they will protect the right to vote? And when we know that suppressing the vote helps the GOP, and they are bombarding the country with legislation which erects barriers to voting rights, mustn’t we take every step to defend our democracy, including a review of Senate rules which can be manipulated to harm it?

We know that this is merely the tip of a continental-sized iceberg of Republican duplicity. After the impeachment vote, McConnell called the attempted insurrection an “attack” for which Donald Trump was “practically and morally responsible” because he spread “wild myths” about the election in a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.” But despite the fact that Trump’s minions literally threatened to kill the vice president and the speaker of the house, McConnell later indicated he would “absolutely” support Trump if he is the 2024 Republican nominee.

Searching instead for bravery in the House? Stop right here. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — no profile in courage — initially said, “The President bears responsibility for [the] attack on Congress by mob rioters.” And then McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring, making sure that Trump would continue to support the GOP (and thus keep those donation bucks flowing into their coffers). Worse, when Liz Cheney, the third-highest member of the Republican conference, echoed the same sentiments McCarthy uttered after Jan. 6, Kevin Courageous promptly orchestrated her ouster from Republican leadership, replacing her with Sedition Caucus member Elise Stefanik. Not to be outdone, Stefanik sealed the GOP’s complete obeisance to Trump by promptly declaring that he is a “critical part of our Republican team.” 

Senator, you know that Trump spent months lying about the election. You know that he is still lying about it today. You have seen firsthand how dangerous these lies are, not just to Congress, or President Biden, or even the Capitol Police, but to our entire democracy itself. And you have seen how the Republican Party has refused to counter these lies from Donald Trump. Instead, they embrace him: echoing his falsehoods, excusing his crimes and misdemeanors, essentially begging him to run for president again despite what it would do to the United States. It was clear that Trump would have done almost anything to stay in power. At this point, practically the entire Republican conference is willing to help him regain it, by almost any means necessary.

This is why Chuck Todd recently asked Rep. Dan Crenshaw, “Why should anybody believe a word you say if the Republican Party itself doesn’t have credibility?”

Which brings us back to the filibuster and the For the People Act.

Republicans know that when Black people vote, the GOP loses. They also know that this tidal wave of voter suppression laws will undoubtedly affect Black voters. In fact, these laws were specifically designed to repress the Black electorate. They also know that there is absolutely, unequivocally, incontrovertibly no evidence of voter fraud. Trump’s own attorney general said so. His election cybersecurity team said so. Sixty courts said so, including judges that Trump himself appointed. Even the FBI said so.

But Trump and acolytes like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene continue to vomit out these seditious lies, raising a completely unwarranted and unjustified fear among their base. Then they cynically use the mistrust they themselves created to call for completely unnecessary, hyperpartisan, restrictive laws to deprive people of their Constitutional right to vote. Then, with the playing field already tilted heavily in their favor, they will gerrymander districts. If that doesn’t give them enough congressional seats, they will simply replace local boards of election until they get the results they seek. They will then claim it’s all legal and all completely necessary because the people did not have faith in the electoral process. How can the people have faith in the electoral process when their leaders are continually lying to them and saying our elections are rife with fraud?

We cannot allow petulant and petty would-be tyrants to revoke franchise rights. Article 1 of the Constitution confers upon Congress the right to pass legislation which preserves our elections. If there were ever a time in the past 50 years when Congress needed to act and protect the right to vote, it is now. Before Republicans can manipulate more federal elections, pour more dark money into their coffers, steal more Supreme Court seats or criminalize more people for giving a cup of water to potential voters excessively parched because the GOP closed their polling place and made them wait in line for 12 hours to vote, Congress must act.

Again, Senator Manchin, 11 states have passed 25 bills restricting voting rights. Sixty-three viable bills are still pending. If Congress does not enact a law which puts a stop to this — NOW — it may never have the chance to do so again. And you know that you will not get ten Republicans to cross the Trump/McConnell Rubicon who will vote to pass the For the People Act. Mitch McConnell already told you so.

Support filibuster reform, Senator. Then pass the For the People Act.

America is counting on you.

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