gdac7678d371b1ffeb743d2c26addd3570cea359802e3fbd2cfbb69face389c444a38ccb55ff9efb387509e4b7aec649228bb85753c9059765265e36c523df6b7_640.jpg
Posted By Matthew Ingram Posted On

Lessons from the Demise of a Voting Rights Bill

michael barebaro

From the New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Today: The most sweeping expansion of federal voting rights in a generation died last night in the U.S. Senate. Nick Fandos from the congressional reporter was my colleague and we talked about what we learned after its demise. It’s Wednesday, 23 June.

You are where? It looks like your in a radio studio.

nick Fandos

Yeah, isn’t this nifty? I am in an audio cabin in the House daily presses gallery, right outside the House chambers. It’s peaceful and relaxing.

michael Barbaro

So basically, the House of Representatives has like podcast studios?

Nick fandos

Uh, it’s like that.

michael barbaro

It’s true, you’ve never sounded so good. In fact, you always sound worse. [LAUGHTER]

[music]

It’s actually better. I envy you because it sounds even better than mine.

OK. Let’s get in there, Nick. Can you give us a brief description of what happened in the U.S. Capitol

nick Fandos

After months and months of debating, promising to, and fighting over it the United States Senate finally took up the Democrats’ enormous, massive election overhaul bill, the For the People Act.

archived recording

So, Mr. President! I am addressing you with a simple request from my colleagues. Let’s do our job. Let’s have a principled conversation about voting rights. Let’s start that conversation now. What could be better?

nick Fandos

It wasn’t even a vote about the merits. It was a vote to open debate and to possibly consider alternative options.

archived recording

The Senate will vote on whether or not to move the transparently-partisan plan of Democrats that tilts it permanently in their favor.

Nick Fandos

What we witnessed, and it was not surprising, was that Republicans held firm to a pledge they made for months to stop this bill.

Archived recording

By now, the rotten inner workings of this power grab have been thoroughly exposed to the light.

nick Fandos

They all voted against any further debate.

Archived recording

Today the Senate is going to fulfill our founding purpose stop the partisan power grab and reject this one.

nick fandos

Filibustering the bill, effectively putting it to rest on the Senate floor.

michael barbaro

This is the filibuster at work.

Nick fandos

Yes. We’ve been hearing about it since Democrats took control in January, that the filibuster was going to be the main obstacle to their agenda on a whole host of issues, from guns to immigration to voting rights, and this was it in action today.

michael Barbaro

If you don’t know or pretend to, what does it mean to filibuster since Democrats have taken control of the Senate? Can you describe what it means for Republicans to have done today, which was to use the filibuster against a piece legislation?

Nick fandos

Michael, that’s a great question. Congress is often misunderstood even though they pretend to know the basics. The Senate’s filibuster rule is actually quite straightforward, even if it sounds strange. This means that the Senate rules require 60 votes to approve or deny debate and allow us to actually examine the substance of a bill.

It means that proponents of a bill cannot vote on the final passage of it unless they control 60 votes. Both parties have used this to block the consideration or rejection of bills in recent years. With the Voting Right bill, Republicans don’t need to be on stage and make speeches all day. They didn’t have to prove any endurance tests.

All they had to do was deny this bill — that’s 60 votes — to move forward. With the Senate split 50-50, and Republicans all opposed, it was not difficult to do.

michael barbaro

That’s right. They won by a large margin.

nick Fandos

That’s right. Republicans have more than enough vote to quickly take it down.

michael Barbaro

Okay. So Nick, now that this bill, which has been described by many people as Democrats’ most ambitious plan to protect voting rights — now that that has gone down in flames, I want to talk about why the bill failed and the larger meaning and the lessons of its failure. Would you agree that these are the best?

nick Fandos

Yes. I think three things spring to mind. The first simply has to do the size and complexity of this bill, as well as its imperfection, for the present moment.

michael barbaro

What exactly are you referring to?

Nick Fandos

This was written just after the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats ran and gained back control of Congress on a kind of anti-corruption, good governance — we’re going put a stop to Donald Trump and his corrupt presidency. Michael, this bill has a huge scope. It covers almost everything in the electoral system, and it is 800 pages.

It abolished state voter ID laws. It allows for automatic voter registration throughout the country. It would allow millions former felons to vote. It would require super PACs to disclose their donors. It would require the president to release his tax returns.

michael barbaro

Huh.

nick Fandos

There are many more. It would also abolish partisan electoral gerrymandering.

michael Barbaro

This bill is very big.

nick fandos

Yes. It is true. But, it is also because this bill was written when it was meant to be a communication bill. A wishlist of Democratic priorities not yet in law. There are often several types of bills in Congress. There are what we call messaging bill, as I mentioned earlier, and then there is substantive bills that might become laws.

And messaging bills are usually written to make political points. So they might not be easy to implement or may contain contradictory parts. Or maybe a Senator says I’m willing to support that, in theory, because they know it will never become law.

michael barbaro

You are right. It sounds like you’re saying this bill was never really designed to go from being a piece of symbolism to a piece of law.

Nick fandos

Yes. Another way of saying it was that it wasn’t yet ready for primetime. Fast forward to January, and the Democrats had regained control of the White House. They knew that they held on to the House narrowly. On January 5th, Georgia’s two runoff elections saw them win and they claim the most sparse Senate majority.

They suddenly have control over Washington for the first time since a decade. This makes what was once an impossible possibility a possible reality. Many of the advocacy groups that have made this bill a top priority decided that this was our chance now.

Meanwhile, Republicans in statehouses across America begin — under Trump’s election lies – to move forward with restrictive voting laws, which experts say make it more difficult for people of color and young people to vote. These laws, which shift power to partisan legislatures in some cases rather than nonpartisan electoral authorities, are being implemented. Democrats feel the urgency to get on top of this.

michael barbo

Right, so they reach back into their legislative satchel, where they have this massive, but quite imperfect, messaging bill on voting and it sounds like they decide to put that forward.

nick Fandos

Yes, it’s true. It was quickly passed by the House in the spring. Then it moves on to the Senate. Democrats knew they were going up against stiff resistance because Republicans opposed it from the start. But as it happened, it wasn’t just Republicans that all of a sudden were looking at this bill and thinking, I’m not so sure about this.

Again, when you take a messaging bill and try and make it a real one, concerns emerge. Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s most prominent senatorial opposition, was in fact a cosponsor this bill during the last Congress. When it was reintroduced again, Manchin withheld his name and stated, “hey, I have some problems with this bill.”

michael barbaro

What were the issues, given that he was a co-sponsor?

nick fandos

He said that on one hand, we’re in a different moment. There are many doubts about our elections. And I think one of the worst things that we could do is to move forward on a bill based on partisanship. It will only backfire on us and reduce voter trust.

But, he says that the bill is too broad. He wasn’t happy with certain provisions that would have virtually eliminated voter ID laws from all states. Manchin supports voter ID laws because they are popular with many voters, including Democrats. A provision that would have established a campaign funding system for congressional candidates was not liked by Manchin.

michael barbaro

Nick, it seems obvious that Democrats should rewrite the old election bill that was introduced in 2018 to communicate with voters and make it more practical so that it can pass the Senate.

nick Fandos

Yes. It’s a wonderful question, especially from this vantage. However, I believe there were several factors at play. One thing is that this bill really mingled together a lot different interests that were represented by powerful advocacy organizations on the Left — groups who are interested and able to vote, redistrict congressional districts, and groups that are concerned in dark money.

All of these groups expressed an interest in the bill. All of our issues must be represented in this bill. In the context of this pitched fight, they know that Republicans won’t be more favorably to a narrower and more tailored voting bill. It is not going win more votes at the United States Senate.

We must believe in what we do, if we are to move forward. We can try and address some of the technical flaws and amendments along the way, but we’re going to try to get this whole thing across the finish line.

[Music]

The other thing they have going on is the knowledge that there may be a battle for the filibuster near the end. My theory is that the larger, bolder and more impactful the bill for the Left is, the more force it has as it crashes into filibuster. Maybe that will be enough to cause some cracks and allow Senate Democrats to change the rules, which they have not liked so far.

michael Barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Nick, it is obvious that Democrats did not join forces to attempt to change the Senate rules or to end the filibuster to pass this voting rights legislation.

Nick Fandos

Right. I believe that’s my second takeaway for today. The Democrats don’t have much of an opportunity to repeal the filibuster rule at this stage.

[music]

They had been arguing for months that the legislation was the best, based on its moral weight and how it affects the foundations of democracy. It’s the tip of the spear colliding into the filibuster that would create a rationale to convince all 50 Senate Democrats and the vice president to change the Senate rules. To reduce the threshold to 60 votes from 50 votes. This would allow for a simple majority of senators to debate and vote on legislation.

Democrats can in essence work around Republicans and pass not only the big voting bill but other items on their agenda. What we actually saw was that Democrats, at the very least, not all of them could not unite around the idea of getting rid from the filibuster. And they didn’t seem to be any closer to it.

michael barbaro

So, if Democrats cannot agree on this issue and stop the filibuster, then Nick Fandos thinks that Democrats will be trapped in a dynamic where Republicans could and most likely will filibuster every major piece of the Biden legislative program.

nick Fandos

It is exactly. This means that Democrats, except for certain issues that can be moved through the opaque budget reconciliation process (which is only a handful of issues), will be looking at a pretty united Republican block of opposition to this entire range of issues that are central both to their political platform and to President Biden’s administration.

michael barebaro

Nick, how does the Democratic senators explain why they refused to vote for the final votes to end filibuster on a topic like this voting rights issue — this election bill?

nick Fandos

Yeah. It’s worth looking at the two most vocal supporters of the filibuster here within the Democratic party. Joe Manchin (West Virginia), who was mentioned earlier, as well as Kyrsten sinema (Arizona). Both of them argue, essentially, that the filibuster is an important tool for promoting civility, bipartisanship and lasting policy in the Senate.

It is believed that it reduces the partisan energy of both the parties and results in better policy. We believe voting rights to be extremely important, as they would claim. Sinema has been a vocal advocate for this legislation. But, if we modify the rules and pass this legislation now without Republican backing, what will stop them in future from getting retribution, from not only reverseing all of these actions but also putting into place draconian national voter laws when they regain power?

It isn’t good for long-term policies and continuity of government to flip-flop like that. And we’ll regret the day that the filibuster was abolished. In any event, they have set a line months ago that they refuse to cross, despite millions of dollars spent on TV ads, rallies being held throughout their states, and all the pressure from the Left to make them do it.

michael Barbaro

For senators like Sinema or Manchin, the moral high ground is in not changing Senate rules to end filibuster. It is changing Senate rules to pass something many party members believe has the highest moral weight, which is an election reform bill.

nick fandos

Right. They seem to think that the principle of the filibuster is more important in this moment than this particular sweeping elections bill.

michael barbo

Nick, what are your final thoughts on the defeat of this election bill’s fate?

nick Fandos

Michael, this is a substantive bill. It is clear that Democrats had spent months preparing for this major national fight over voting rights. Congress would then be able to reverse the decision.

With them being essentially put to the sideline, maybe permanently, it means that states that have already passed laws — there are 14 Republican states which have passed restrictive voting laws or changed voting rules, these will not be challenged by Congress. Other states may also have similar proposals, and there are many of these, but they will be able move ahead without Congress’ interference.

michael Barbaro

So what does it look like in practice when it comes to electoral laws and restrictions?

nick fandos

It will make it more difficult for some people to request a mail-in vote in many states across the country. It might be harder to find a dropbox to drop your ballot. This could make it more difficult to vote on Sundays, as Black voters tend to go to the polls on Sundays.

In aggregate, it means that in all these little ways, Republicans in many of these key states are putting in place a set of rules that, and especially in a close election, could tip the balance in their favor and benefit Republican candidates. It will make it easier for voters to go to the polls and more difficult for those who vote for Democrats, to cast their ballots or win in contested cases.

michael barbaro

That’s right. With the extinction of all Congress-related legislation, the courts appear to be the only remaining option. And our colleague, Adam Liptak, told us earlier this week, that it looks to him that the Supreme Court is likely to uphold these Republican-led restrictions that you just described. And taken together, it would seem that neither of these branches will challenge the state restrictions.

Nick fandos

I think that’s true on a big scale at the moment. Although Democrats in Congress seem certain that they will keep trying to address this issue, it’s hard, if ever, to see how success they’ll achieve, at least before 2022.

These institutions and legislators will continue to sue for their blockade in court. And they may win some piecemeal victories, but it’s a losing game of whack-a-mole, I think, for those who are trying to stand in the way of these things.

Maybe they’ll be successful here or there, but overall there seems to be a green light for Republicans in favor of these kind of restrictions to just keep stacking them up. This leaves Democrats with very few options.

This is a political issue. To make democracy available on the next election ballot.

They must be voted out. You’ve got to bring us back and bigger numbers so we can get this done, because your very ability to vote and have your government be responsive to you is on the line.

michael Barbaro

This may explain why Democrats held the Senate vote on Tuesday knowing full well they would lose. They knew that this was not going be the impetus to eliminate the filibuster. However, they wanted to record that Republicans opposed to this bill in order that it could be used as an issue in the next set.

nick Fandos

Yes. To make it more difficult, Democrats will not create the pressure needed to eliminate the filibuster. Instead, they will look down at the next election and try to portray Republicans as anti-democratic forces, still in partnership with Donald Trump, and determined to undermine the government. They also portray themselves as Democrats who are protecting that.

michael Barbaro

But the dilemma would seem to be that between now and the next election, Democrats may get locked into this dynamic we just described, which is that they really can’t get much passed because of the filibuster, which wasn’t changed because of this bill.

They must also wave their failures to the voters, saying, We were never given a shot because Republicans wouldn’t allow it. Will voters vote for them, or will they say that he didn’t get anything done? We should give Republicans another chance.

Nick Fandos

Yeah, I think that that’s a question that’s causing a lot of anxiety for Democrats right now. They were quick out of the gate to pass this whopping $2 trillion stimulus bill and they did it fast and it was very popular. It is beginning to look like they won’t be able pass much of the agenda in Congress.

They may be able to get a big infrastructure and jobs bill through, but after that, progressives say, our voters are going to look at us in 2022 and say, hey, we gave you all three levers of government. We turned out in huge numbers last time, and this is all we got for it?

With the cards they have been dealt, I believe that Democratic leaders feel like we should at least try to play this card and hang on to Republicans.

[music]

But the question is how powerful and efficient can Democrats be politically in claiming the moral superiority as the protectors of democracy in a contest when Republicans who have backed these restrictions write the rules of election.

michael barbaro

Thank you, Nick. We are grateful.

Nick fandos

Michael, thanks for having me.

[music]

MICHAEL BARBARO The Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott moved the state closer towards imposing broad restrictions on voting. Abbott called an emergency session of the legislature to discuss a bill that would make voting by mail more difficult, prohibit drive-through and 24-hour voting, increase power for poll watchers, and make it more difficult for people to vote.

We’ll be there.

Here are the other things you need to know about today.

Archived recording (dr.jeff zients).

What are our current numbers? Today, I’d like to show you the numbers that tell us where we are making the most progress and what we still have to do.

michael barebaro

The Biden administration declared Tuesday that it would not reach its original goal, which was to provide at least one dose for Covid-19 vaccine to 70 per cent of adults by July Fourth.

Archived recording (dr.jeff zents).

Particularly with 18-26-year-olds, this is where the country has more work.

michael barbo

During a news conference Dr. Jeff Zients, president’s Covid-19 Coordinator, stated that it has been more difficult than expected for younger Americans to accept the vaccine.

Archived recording (dr. Jeff Zients).

Many younger Americans feel that Covid-19 doesn’t have an impact on them, and are less likely to take the shot.

michael barebaro

The rate of vaccinations taken by older Americans continues to rise. 85 percent of seniors 65 years and older have had at least one dose.

Stella Tan, Neena Pathak, Annie Brown produced today’s episode. Chris Wood engineered it. It was edited and produced by M.J. Davis Lin.

That’s all for The Daily. Michael Barbaro. We will see you tomorrow.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *