Democrat efforts to avoid the filibuster for matters related to voting rights came to an abrupt, although unsurprising, end late Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) attempted to make a rule change on January 19 that would require only a simple majority to pass the contentious Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. His plans were derailed, however, when Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) voted alongside all 50 Republicans, essentially killing the bills.
Did Sen. Schumer unwittingly prove that democracy is alive and well in the Senate? And by doing so, has he derailed future attempts to treat the United States as a democracy rather than a constitutional republic?
Several hours before the vote, President Biden lamented during a lengthy press conference, “I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was to make sure Biden didn’t get anything done. What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they are for.”
But perhaps this message was not for the GOP alone. If this were a final cri de coeur to get certain members of his own party to fall into line, it fell on deaf ears.
A Face-Saving Exercise?
Schumer remains undeterred in his mission to pass the bills and remove the filibuster. He tweeted soon after the vote:
“Senate Democrats won’t be deterred. With no support from the Senate GOP—many denying voter suppression even exists—we faced an uphill battle in this vote. But every Senator’s now on record. Americans see who’s for voting rights. It only strengthens our resolve to protect voting.”
This posturing seems more an effort to save face by claiming that getting senators on record is at least a small victory. Yet both Manchin and Sinema had already been vocal in their position on crushing the 60-vote threshold.
Manchin has remained consistent in his opposition to the rule change, arguing on the Senate floor, “I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country, not to divide our country. We’re called the United States, not the divided states, and putting politics and party aside is what we’re supposed to do.”
And Sinema – although choosing not to address the Senate on Wednesday – has been starkly clear in her opposition for many weeks.
The Senate majority leader’s statement, therefore, appears to have an ulterior motive – perhaps he wanted to show that he himself was on the record for doing all he could to pass the legislation.
Did Schumer Save “American Democracy”?
As Schumer sought to rally his party for this vote, he implored, “Shall we see American democracy backslide in our time, grow feeble in the jaws of its adversaries, and ultimately succumb to the cancer of voter suppression? The answer, in a large sense, could depend on how we move forward this evening.”
His question was, at least in part, answered; democracy – as in a majority vote – did prevail. Of 100 senators, 52 voted against his wishes. It may not have been the answer he desired, but it was an answer, nonetheless. For those who wish to cast America as a democracy rather than a constitutional republic, it should be more than enough to know that the majority has been satisfied and the minority – in this case, those who desired to remove the filibuster – could not bully their way to success.
Be of good cheer, Senator Schumer, for you have proven that, despite shenanigans and partisanship, the system you represent actually does work.
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.