On Wednesday evening, the House will vote on a massive package of pro-democracy reforms. It includes measures that would make it easier to vote and register in numerous ways, place sharp limits on voter suppression and other hurdles to participation, and end extreme gerrymanders.

It is inconceivable that anything like this package — known as H.R. 1 — could ever pass the Senate as long as the legislative filibuster remains. Which is why it was welcome when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) came out in support of ending the filibuster if it is necessary to pass measures defending voting rights.

Unfortunately, the way Klobuchar described the issue also inescapably highlights how few other Democrats are discussing it in these terms.

Klobuchar made the comments in an interview with Ari Berman:

“I would get rid of the filibuster,” Klobuchar says. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill.”
In the past, Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, has indicated she was open to eliminating the filibuster, but these comments to Mother Jones are her most definitive statement to date.
Though her Democratic colleagues Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they would not support abolishing the filibuster, Klobuchar notes that the spread of new GOP anti-voting bills boosts the need for Democrats to enact HR 1 — and that increases the pressure to end or alter the Senate filibuster.
“We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote and you just can’t let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate,” she says.

What’s critical here is that Klobuchar, who is decidedly not a member of the party’s liberal wing, bluntly described the central question as one over whether Democrats will allow themselves to be steamrolled by a Republican exercise of power.

Across the country, GOP state legislatures are using the power they have to tilt the future electoral playing field to their anti-majoritarian advantage, making it harder to vote wherever possible and even boasting that extreme gerrymanders will help them recapture the House.

Ahead of the vote on H.R. 1, Democratic lawmakers rallied on the Capitol steps on March 3. The bill is expected to face opposition in the Senate. (Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

Will Democrats really allow the filibuster — itself an anti-majoritarian relic of Jim Crow — to constrain them from using their power to defend voting rights and the majoritarian features of our democracy even as Republicans undermine them as comprehensively as they possibly can?

Such is Klobuchar’s framing. How often do you hear other Democrats discuss the issue in quite these terms?

Indeed, our discourse is so upside down that it gets discussed in precisely the opposite way. Democrats such as Manchin and Sinema constantly treat keeping the filibuster as something that will facilitate the operations of democracy.

For instance, NBC News reports that Sinema sent a letter to constituents insisting that keeping it will smooth a “bipartisan process” that will respect “the opinions of senators from the minority party” and “result in better, commonsense legislation.”

That’s nonsense. In an ideal world where civic virtue and good faith reigned, denying a partisan majority the ability to pass legislation would theoretically result in more bipartisanship, since that majority then would need a few members of the minority to get 60 votes to end filibusters.

But that’s not the world that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made. He has a long history of using the filibuster as a tool to facilitate the withholding of any and all bipartisan cooperation, which he did to cast the last Democratic president as a failed conciliator, irrespective of whether that president actually did offer concessions to GOP senators. This is continuing now.

Whatever Republican senators’ “opinions,” the incentives tilt against them engaging in a “bipartisan process,” since refraining is better for their party overall. Ironically, without the filibuster, GOP senators might be more inclined to negotiate to place their stamp on legislation they know might pass without them.

Playing this ugly game is McConnell’s right under Senate rules, but no one is obliged to pretend not to understand how the filibuster actually functions: In reality, it gums up the functioning of government and incentivizes raw partisan power politics.

In the case of voting rights, this will be even more stark. Republicans are doing everything they can to rig democracy to their anti-majoritarian advantage wherever possible, for purely partisan purposes. Will Sinema and Manchin really prevent the Senate majority from protecting voters from these schemes in the name of the illusory promise of bipartisanship?

As Ronald Brownstein writes, the GOP escalation of these tactics — revealing a party entirely unchastened about its full-scale effort to overturn a national election — suggests we may be at a “turning point in the history of U.S. democracy”:

Against the backdrop of the red-state voting offensive, the fate of H.R. 1 looks like a genuine inflection point. If Democrats can’t persuade Manchin, Sinema, and any other filibuster proponents to kill the parliamentary tool, Senate Republicans will be able to shield their state-level allies from federal interference.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the sponsor of H.R. 1, told Brownstein: “If we can’t get these changes in place in time for the 2022 midterm election,” it may be too late, and Republicans may “lock in this voter-suppression regime.”

Klobuchar now seems to get this. How many other Democrats do?

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