What the Majority Wants vs. the Minority Rule Party

The American Rescue Plan the House of Representatives passed early Saturday morning has so much in it that one amazing provision is hardly being mentioned:

President Biden and Democratic lawmakers want to fight child poverty by giving U.S. families a few hundred dollars every month for every child in their household — no strings attached. A kind of child allowance. . . . Experts say it could cut child poverty nearly in half (NPR).

It’s understandable, therefore, that polls say an overwhelming majority of Americans support the Democrats’ Covid relief bill. One poll says 76% — even 60% of Republicans — support it. But not a single Republican in the House of Representatives voted for it. 

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Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent of The Washington Post both have columns about the bill and the politics. Here’s a mixture from what they wrote:

If I asked you to explain the Republican case against the Covid relief bill, what would you say? Well, they think it’s too expensive, and they’d rather not give too much help to states and localities. But their arguments against it seem halfhearted, anemic, almost resigned. . . .

This ought to be a moment when the GOP is back in its comfort zone. It’s not a party built for governing; Republicans no longer have much of a policy agenda, their leaders have become much more skilled at obstruction than at passing laws, and they have an enormous propaganda machine with a talent for creating fear and outrage. The party’s specialty is opposition.

One of the things they’ve done in the past is cast every new Democratic or liberal move as a harbinger of an impending apocalypse. Obamacare, they said in 2010, would destroy the American health care system. If gay people are allowed to marry, they said in 2004, the result would be the end of families and the breakdown of society. Both predictions proved ludicrously wrong, but at the time, they were highly effective means of motivating opposition. Today you can still find such rhetoric, but you have to look for it. . . .

Back in 2009, [Republican congressman Paul Ryan] made a very public case against a stimulus a fraction this big, making an actual argument (if a fraudulent one) about what debt Armageddon would mean for American society.

These days it’s harder to make that case. Republicans blew up the deficit with a huge tax cut for the rich, and cheered along as the pre-Covid economy was rocket-fueled with stimulus. Economists no longer fear the long-term risks of massive deficit spending amid big crises.

As a result, there’s nothing close to the same kind of public argument this time. As Paul Krugman points out:

Republicans appear to be losing the economic argument in part because they aren’t even bothering to show up

It’s as if they know they don’t have to.

They may well fully expect Democrats to . . . get the economy booming again, even as the vaccine rollout and other policies successfully tame the pandemic.

Yet Republicans know that even if this happens, they still have a good chance at recapturing the House at a minimum, helped along by a combination of voter suppression and other counter-majoritarian tactics and built-in advantages.

[Outside of Washington] they’re racing forward with an extraordinary array of new voter suppression efforts. Such measures are advancing in Georgia, Florida and Iowa, and in many other states.

In a good roundup of all these new efforts, Ari Berman notes:

After record turnout in 2020, Republican-controlled states appear to be in a race to the bottom to see who can pass the most egregious new barriers to voting.

On top of that, Republicans are openly boasting that their ability to take back the House next year will gain a big lift from extreme gerrymanders. Some experts believe they can do that even if Democrats win the national House popular vote by a margin similar to that of 2020.

So is there any reason to doubt that they’re primarily counting on more of the same as their path back to power this time?

[But controlling the White House and both houses of Congress] presents an extraordinary opportunity for Biden and congressional Democrats if they can see their way clear to take advantage of it.

Right now, Democrats are tying themselves in knots trying to figure out how to increase the minimum wage, something President Biden ran on, their entire party believes in, and which is overwhelmingly popular with the public. Some want $15 an hour, while others would prefer $11.

Yet the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that a straight minimum wage increase can’t pass via the reconciliation process — the only way to pass a bill with a simple majority vote — the details of which are incomprehensible, or endlessly maddening, or both.

So Democrats have to find some kind of fiscal somersault to try to get the minimum wage increase into the Covid relief bill. 

This is no way to make laws. And what’s even worse is that it’s happening at a moment when Republicans — who in the past have been nothing if not skilled at undermining, vilifying, and sabotaging Democratic presidents — have seldom looked more feckless.

Republicans just haven’t been able to take the hatred and fear their hardcore base feels for Biden and scale it up and out, which then affects their ability to whip up frenzied opposition to the things he’s trying to do. And the broader context matters, too: When we’re caught in a pandemic and an economic crisis, only so many people will get worked up about whether a transgender girl is allowed to play softball.

That gives Democrats the chance to move forward confidently with their agenda, an agenda that is enormously popular. Yet some in the party are still in the grip of the nonsensical belief that it’s more important to retain a Senate procedure whose purpose is to thwart progress than to pass laws that solve problems.

In every American state legislature and in most every legislature around the world, if there’s majority support for a bill, it passes. In almost all cases supermajorities are only required, if ever, on things like constitutional amendments.

And every argument the filibuster’s defenders make about it — that it produces deliberative debate, that it encourages bipartisanship, that it makes for cooperation and compromise — is simply wrong, as anyone who has been awake for the last couple of decades knows perfectly well.

The Covid relief bill will pass, because it’s the only thing Democrats can do without a supermajority. It’s a vital, popular bill that could have been done in cooperation with Republicans had they wanted, but instead they’ve decided to oppose it. Which is their right, but it also shows how a simple majority should be the requirement for more legislating — which can only happen if the filibuster is eliminated.

The first weeks of the Biden presidency show the path Democrats can take: Push forward with the popular and consequential parts of your agenda, don’t be distracted by bleating from Republicans, act as though the public is behind you (because it is), and you might find that the Republican opposition machine isn’t as potent as it used to be.

But none of that will be possible unless Democrats can deliver on their promises. If they let themselves be handcuffed by the filibuster, the Biden presidency will fail and Republicans will take control of Congress. In other words, Democrats will have done the job Republicans couldn’t do themselves.

Unquote.

Neither of the columnists mentioned two key parts of the Democratic agenda.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would protect voters from racial discrimination and voter suppression.

The For the People Act would expand voting rights, overhaul our campaign finance system, and end extreme partisan gerrymandering.

All that stands in the way of these bills becoming law is the current requirement that ten Republican senators vote for them. That’s why the 50 Democratic senators need to end or severely limit the filibuster, thereby restoring majority rule to the US Senate. That’s how we can help restore majority rule to the United States of America.

A Power Grab or Healing a Wound?

The U.S. government established the Dakota Territory in 1861. It consisted of what’s now South Dakota and North Dakota, as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming. As the population grew, there was a campaign to make the territory a state. That happened in 1889. But there was a wrinkle. In order to give the Republican Party more representation in Congress, the territory was divided into two states.

Today, the 1.6 million residents of North and South Dakota have four senators and two representatives. If Dakota had been made a single state, it would be the fourth largest state by area and have two senators and one representative, just like Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming.

There are 3.2 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, twice as many as live in North and South Dakota, but they have zero senators and zero representatives.

Washington, DC, only has 700,000 residents, but that’s more than Vermont and Wyoming and almost as many as Alaska. Just like Puerto Rico, the Americans who live in Washington, DC, have zero senators and zero representatives. 

From The Guardian:

One of the most powerful prosecutions [at the impeachment trial] came from Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands, the first delegate from an American territory to hold the position of impeachment manager. Yet Plaskett’s status meant that she was unable to vote for impeachment because she has no vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. The US Virgin Islands has no representation at all in the Senate. Its residents cannot even vote for president.

The anomaly illuminates America’s long unaddressed colonial history that leaves five territories floating in constitutional limbo, their residents – most of them people of color – effectively treated as second-class citizens.

But with the impetus of last summer’s protests against racial injustice, and the election of a Democratic president, one of those territories – Puerto Rico – is aiming to become the 51st state of the union. A parallel effort by Washington, District of Columbia, is also closer than ever to its similar goal.

‘It is incredibly important to take a step back and look at who actually has real representation in democracy,” said Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager of 51 for 51, an organization pushing for DC statehood. “If you think about all the players that you mentioned, they all have a common thread: [most] are people of color. Does America have a true democracy if so many people of color are standing outside looking in and are not able to fully participate?”

There are five inhabited US territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Apart from American Samoa, people born in the territories are US citizens and pay federal taxes such as Medicare and social security, though not federal tax on locally sourced income. Each territory sends a delegate to the House who can debate legislation and sit on committees but is not able to actually vote.

Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until 1898 when it fell under US control as part of the terms that ended the Spanish-American war. In 1917 the Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans US citizenship and in 1952 it became a commonwealth of the US – but still without voting rights in American presidential elections.

Over the past half-century Puerto Rico has held six non-binding referendums on its status and last November voted 52%-47% in favor of statehood, a cause boosted by grievance over the federal government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. . . . 

George Laws Garcia, executive director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, said: “You have a bunch of unelected individuals making decisions on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico over the desires and ideas and perspectives of the local elected officials, which I think is basically blatant colonialism.

“We had Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes and now Covid and, in all these instances when Puerto Rico needs federal resources, federal support, federal action, we don’t have the capacity to hold elected officials in Washington accountable for what they do because they don’t ever get any votes from Puerto Rico, and that includes the president as well as members of Congress”. . . .

Almost all of Puerto Rico’s residents are Hispanic while nearly half of DC’s are Black. . . . 
Its 700,000-plus residents pay more per capita in federal income taxes than any state. They gained the right to vote in presidential elections in 1961 but still lack a voting member in the House or a voice in the Senate.

The movement for DC statehood is bigger and better organized than ever before. Last June the House passed a bill that approved it, the first time a chamber of Congress had advanced a DC statehood measure. . . .

Rhodes of 51 for 51 said: “Our most celebrated civil rights leaders were fighting for access to democracy. If you think about John Lewis and Martin Luther King, they were all fighting for access to voting and access to representation and so here in 2021 we’re still fighting in Washington DC for equal representation and a clear chance at participation in democracy” . . .
[After] the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told reporters earlier this month: “If the District of Columbia could operate as a state, [what] any governor can do is to call out the national guard without getting the permission of the federal government. It shouldn’t have to happen that way”. . . .

Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy for the grassroots movement Indivisible, said: “It’s an issue of basic fairness”. . . . 

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said: “At the end of the day, you have states from Utah to Montana to others that have gained statehood early on with less question, with less critique than DC and Puerto Rico. It is a fundamental democratic flaw and it reeks of hypocrisy. The only reason why it is a debate or even a question is because of who makes up the majority of both of those places”. . . .

Donna Brazile, a former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, said: “This is about making America a more perfect union. It’s the oldest constitutional democracy in the world and yet some of its citizens do not have all the full voting rights because of where they reside. If we’re going to end racial injustice in America and talk about a new beginning for the country, we can’t sidestep old issues.”

Unquote.

Of course, Congressional Republicans are opposed to statehood for Puerto Rico and DC. The Senate Minority Leader called the idea a “power grab”, simply a way to add Democrats to Congress (see “Dakota Territory, history of”). 

Except it’s not that simple at all. Our fellow Americans deserve representation in Congress. That’s the principal justification for adding two more states to the union. It’s not as clear what to do for the 376,000 Americans who live in Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, but Puerto Rico and DC aren’t difficult cases.

Overcoming right-wing opposition (aka voter suppression) by abolishing or seriously reforming the Senate filibuster in order to give Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, full voting rights would give the voters who live there the same power as the other 330 million Americans. It would fix a longstanding problem. It would heal a constitutional wound. As a side effect, it would also add balance to the US Senate, where fifty Republicans today represent 43% of the population and fifty Democrats represent 57%.

This Morning’s Impeachment Developments

Two things happened.

The first was that the odious Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the Repugnant Minority Leader, sent an email to his colleagues. He made two assertions, neither of which make sense.

His email said “while a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction”. McConnell could have said impeachment’s “only” purpose is removal, but he didn’t, because that’s not true. According to the language of the Constitution, if presidents are impeached and convicted, they can’t be punished by anything except removal from office or disqualification from future office (they can’t be thrown in jail). Removal isn’t required. That’s why historical precedent, logic and 99% of constitutional scholars say a former president can be disqualified from future office.

So, instead, McConnell says the “primary” purpose of impeachment is removal. That implies that its secondary purpose is disqualification. Likewise, the primary purpose of TV is entertainment. A secondary purpose is education. That doesn’t mean you can only watch entertaining TV. It’s perfectly fine to watch educational television that isn’t entertaining, because being educated is one reason people have for watching TV, just like disqualification is one reason people have to convict somebody who’s been impeached. 

In short, McConnell is full of crap (as usual) when he says the Senate lacks jurisdiction. He’s simply giving himself and fellow Repugnants an excuse to ignore the evidence and not hold their party’s leader accountable.

The other thing that happened is that the House managers announced that they want to call at least one witness, primarily Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, Republican of Washington. She reiterated last night that the former president ignored a plea to intervene during the riot, first claiming it was leftists who were causing the violence and then suggesting that the rioters were merely demonstrating their anger regarding the election. Rep. Beutler took notes when she was told what the president said, so the House managers want those notes too.

The House managers had never formally indicated they wouldn’t call witnesses, although that was most people’s expectation. Since this was the moment in the proceedings when the question of witnesses could be raised, the House managers used their opportunity. They want to show the former president’s lack of interest in stopping the assault. As someone said: if you’re an arsonist, you want to watch your fire burn, not put it out.

In response, the ex-president’s lawyer then huffed and puffed and said he now wants to call 100 witnesses!

The problem is that lawyers don’t get to subpoena whoever they want. Judges can overrule subpoenas if they’re irrelevant (if I sued my bank for some reason, I couldn’t subpoena Angelina Jolie, even though she seems like an interesting person). Having voted to allow witnesses, the Senate now has to vote on which witnesses to call and how to do it. They’re now having lunch and talking among themselves on how to proceed. 

So the trial will continue for a while, maybe weeks, as more evidence is gathered. Fortunately, the Democrats control the Senate agenda and they have plenty of other things to do, like approving President Biden’s nominees and voting on legislation to address a public health crisis made worse by the worst president in American history, the creep McConnell wants to protect.

Update — from The Guardian:

After congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statement was added to the official record, both the House impeachment managers and Donald Trump’s defense lawyers declined to make any requests for more evidence.

That means the impeachment trial will have no witnesses, after a few hours of intense drama over who would be called to testify.

The trial has moved on to closing arguments from the managers and Trump’s lawyers, which will last up to four hours. The Senate will then move on to a final vote, meaning Trump will likely be acquitted later today.

The Only Thing He Didn’t Say

It’s not a criminal trial and he isn’t charged with a crime. The legal requirement to prove somebody incited a riot isn’t relevant (although this case, beyond a reasonable doubt, meets that requirement). This is the formal evaluation of a leader who took an oath to faithfully execute his office. The senators are supposed to determine whether he lived up to that oath and should ever hold a similar office again.

Nor is he “some guy” who showed up at a demonstration and made a speech. Rep. Jamie Raskin explained today why the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech doesn’t apply to a government official, even a public school teacher, who says inflammatory things and as a result loses their job. It certainly doesn’t apply to a president of the United States who continuously lies about the result of an election and tells an angry crowd to go to the Capitol in a last ditch effort to stop the legitimate transfer of power.

The only thing going for the defense — aside from the fact that the jurors aren’t impartial and don’t get to cast secret ballots — is that the creep didn’t explicitly say something like “Now I want you to go to the Capitol and do whatever you can to get inside the building and stop the certification”, followed by “It’s crucial to the future of our country that you show no mercy”.

Mob bosses rarely give such explicit orders. Prosecutors don’t need a boss to have issued explicit instructions to rub somebody out if the boss said enough to get the job done. Bosses say things like “take care of it” or “you know what to do” or “he brought this on himself”. In this case, a leader told his followers to “stop the steal”, “fight like hell” and “be strong or you won’t have a country anymore”. This was at the very moment, a few blocks away, that Congress was doing something he’d fought against every way possible for months. 

So we can all take a break tomorrow when the creep’s lawyers spin their web of distraction and deceit. If you watch much of it, good luck and congratulations on your fortitude.

Two Questions for Those 44 Republican Senators

I’d love to ask 44 distinguished minority members of the U.S. Senate these questions:

After hearing the evidence that shows how much effort the former president put into changing the result of the election by repeatedly lying about winning; urging his followers to “fight like hell” to protect their country by keeping him in office; putting pressure on election officials, members of his administration and Congress; calling for his supporters to come to Washington at the same time Congress was meeting to certify the election; telling the crowd — some of whom had histories of violence and had discussed plans to storm the Capitol — to march to that very building, saying he would accompany them, it being his last chance to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election, do you think the president hoped or expected that he would keep his job because the angry crowd would arrive at the Capitol and “stop the steal” by peacefully protesting the transfer of power, or that they would do something more dramatic?

After hearing the evidence above, and knowing that the president watched the riot on television for hours while failing to intervene and failing to summon help, ignoring numerous pleas to do so, while wondering why other people at the White House weren’t as excited as he was; and that he eventually told the violent mob that they were “patriots” and “special people” whom he loved, after finally telling them to go home peacefully, but never once condemning the violence, do you think he should ever be allowed to become president again?

I don’t know how the 44 Republican senators who voted this week to stop the trial, based on an absurd reading of the Constitution, would answer these questions. I assume they’ll use that reading of the Constitution to say their hands are tied. They’ll claim the Constitution just won’t allow them to convict him and disqualify him from ever holding office again. That’s even though, after being exposed to all the evidence, they could accept the verdict of the Senate that the trial is perfectly appropriate or announce that they have reconsidered their earlier vote. They could do either of those things, because, yes, it’s so often easier to think the best of people rather than the worst.