Chuck Schumer has a losing hand, and he knows it. Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats passed two voting and elections bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Neither has any chance to pass the Senate under its existing rules. Schumer needs the support of 10 Republican senators to break a filibuster, and he has zero, because the bills are left-wing wish lists full of dramatic expansions of federal power, handouts to incumbents, and crackdowns on free speech.
Schumer is instead taking a radical step favored by the left wing of his party: permanently change the rules of the Senate to abolish the filibuster just to pass these two bills. Even Joe Biden has endorsed this. Never mind that Schumer and Biden between them have participated in hundreds of filibusters (in Schumer’s case, hundreds just during Donald Trump’s presidency) and that both men have given multiple impassioned speeches in the past on the democratic virtues of the filibuster.
But Schumer doesn’t have the votes for that, either. At least two of the 50 Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are publicly opposed to abolishing the filibuster. It is likely that other Democratic senators don’t want to do it, either, but are letting Manchin and Sinema take the heat from their base.
None the wiser
A wiser man would accept reality and look for a different fight to pick. Continuing to push these bills is one failure after another. It illustrates that the president can’t get his agenda passed through Congress. It shines a spotlight on the fact that it’s yet again his own party’s disunity that has thwarted him. It vents the anger of activists against two elected Democrats (Manchin and Sinema) who could easily be replaced by Republicans.
For good measure, the apocalyptic rhetoric from Biden and other Democrats about these bills being necessary to save democracy runs the risk that some of their own voters will believe it and stay home in November, convinced that their votes don’t count. That’s what happened to Republicans in last January’s Georgia Senate runoff elections after two months of Donald Trump saying that Georgia elections were rigged and stolen.
Schumer is not that wiser man. To work around the filibuster rule and force a debate on the Senate floor, he is playing a shell game. How this works: Pelosi brings up an amendment to a bill on a completely unrelated topic, replaces all of the words in the amendment with the voting and elections bills, and sends them back to Schumer. The amendment is, literally, a shell in which the voting bills are hidden, like when unscrupulous stock fraudsters take over some defunct corporation in order to have a company already listed on a stock exchange without having to obey the rules for newly listed businesses.
But here’s the thing: the shell game only gets the bill past the first hurdle to the Senate floor for debate; there then has to be a second vote to end debate on the bill. That still takes 60 votes, unless the rules change. And no matter how often the national political press has begged them to reconsider — they are asked this every day by desperate reporters — Manchin and Sinema have stood firm. So, Schumer loses.
Why go to the trouble of all this flimflammery just to hold a show debate and lose? Partly because Democrats are in such deep political trouble that they need to lash out to fire up their remaining supporters and vent their own frustrations. Biden’s approval rating is down to 42% in the poll averages, with the last poll showing just 33% of adults in his corner, and worse among onetime Democratic groups: 28% with Hispanics, 24% with 18-to-34-year-olds.
Spinning the oldies
Black voters are the only ones left still supporting Biden — albeit at levels much lower than usual for a Democrat — so Democrats are spinning the oldies, calling Republicans racists and invoking memories of the real voting-rights battles of the 1960s. Biden’s speech in Georgia on Tuesday compared anyone in his way (implicitly including Manchin and Sinema) to Jefferson Davis, Bull Connor and George Wallace. Ironically, all three of those were Democrats, and two of them still in office when Biden first ran for the Senate as a Democrat.
Even Schumer’s deputy, Dick Durbin, had to concede on CNN the next day that “perhaps the president went a little too far in his rhetoric.” But Biden, who once told a black crowd that Mitt Romney was “going to put y’all back in chains,” is undeterred. Shameful rhetoric of this sort is the order of the day.
As for Schumer, he seems less worried about looking like a fool than about being called a sellout by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There is still time for AOC to file a primary challenge to Schumer this spring. You’d think Schumer, who won 70% of the vote in his last election, wouldn’t be worried. But his shell game suggests otherwise.