seditious conspiracy and excess electors

As we have just passed the one-year anniversary of the attack on the US Capitol, we are getting more public insight into the investigations surrounding it.

In the United States, law enforcement and local, state, and federal judiciary officials do not publicly comment on ongoing investigations. They do this to avoid tipping their hand to those who might potentially be contacted to testify or who might eventually be indicted and also to not prejudice future jurors. This does, however, lead to lots of public speculation. Over 700 people had been charged in connection to the January 6th attack, many with misdemeanors but some with felonies, such as assaulting police officers.

This week, eleven members of the extremist group Oath Keepers, including their founder Stewart Rhodes, were charged with seditious conspiracy in conjunction with the attack on the Capitol. While there had been a few prior conspiracy charges, such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, this is the first instance of charges of seditious conspiracy.

The indictment is quite detailed about the weeks of planning and the actions of the Oath Keepers before, during, and after the January 6th Capitol breach. It helps explain why it took a bit over a year to issue the indictment, as it takes time to amass the evidence needed for the grand jury to charge the defendants. Now that this indictment focused on the Oath Keepers has been handed down, it’s possible that we may see other, similar indictments of members of the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. Given the way that these big investigations tend to start with lesser crimes and work their way through to more serious charges among those who engaged in orchestrating events, we may eventually see indictments of some elected officials who helped or coordinated with these groups.

It is likely that we are seeing a similar dynamic with the House select committee investigation. Investigative reporters have recently obtained copies of forged electoral college certification documents for Donald Trump from five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin) that Joe Biden won, which were sent to the Congress and the National Archives. This suggest an organized attempt by Republicans to commit election fraud. Note that these materials were obtained by journalists through Freedom of Information Act requests in the states. They were not leaked from any Congressional or judicial investigations but it seems that those investigations already have these documents as part of their evidence.

Patience is required to see if this evidence will eventually result in charges but it seems that more and more evidence of conspiracy to overturn a valid presidential election is coming to light. I find it unnerving to see how close the US came to a coup but I hope that these investigations will root out all those responsible and bring them to justice before they have another chance to try again. If they do get that chance and succeed in rigging an election or overturning the results of a fair election, the United States will cease to be the oldest functioning democracy in the modern world.

We must not risk that happening.

In the United States, no one is above the law.

At least, that is what we keep telling ourselves.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/14/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-14th-2022/

January 6

January 6, like December 7 and September 11, has entered the consciousness of the United States as a date on which we were attacked. January 6 is more painful to me because the attack was perpetrated by our own citizens, animated by lies about the integrity of the 2020 election.

The harm of the attack on the Capitol was compounded by over one hundred members of Congress who voted on January 7 against certifying the votes from some states, despite dozens of recounts, audits, and court cases verifying the accuracy of the vote count. Investigations since have also shown there was no widespread voter fraud or irregularities with the 2020 election.

Strangely, the same people who insist the 2020 election was rigged have discounted the election interference that took place in the 2016 election. This interference, which was known publicly in part before the election and elucidated further by the Mueller report and the talking indictments of Russian operatives after the election, could have impacted the result of the election, especially in the targeted districts that the Trump campaign told the Russians about from their internal campaign polling data.

After the Republicans refused the opportunity to set up an independent investigation of the events leading up to January 6 and the day itself, the House of Representatives set up a special committee, which has been meeting for months. There has been some public testimony and there will probably be more coming soon. I try to hope that this will be helpful in showing what happened and why – and who was responsible for the violence and the lies that have weakened our country and its democratic norms.

It is obvious that Trump has been the loudest voice saying the elections are rigged, but his own words dating back to 2016 show that, for him, “rigged” equals I lost and “fair” equals I won. It has nothing to do with accurate counts of votes cast or fair voter registration and ballot access or lack of foreign interference.

What is even more disheartening is that the Republican party, which had an opportunity to stand up for the fairness of the election, our democratic system, and the Constitution, chose instead to undermine our government in a quest for power, even when that power is gained at the expense of the majority of our own citizens. While there have been a few brave Republicans who have stood up for the truth and for the Constitution – and many more who have abandoned the party altogether – most have supported the lies of the former president and have not voted for bills to help the country deal with the pandemic, the many needs of our people, and the strengthening of voting rights.

I am still in the UK visiting family on this first anniversary of the insurrection. If I were at home, I’d probably be watching coverage about it today, analyzing where the country stands and what the future might be. I would like to be hopeful, but I’m not. While I try to do what I can to spread facts, it doesn’t reach, let alone convince, those who have fallen victim to lies and conspiracy theories.

I will try, in the coming year, to do what I can to keep spreading facts, as will millions of others in their professional and personal lives, in hopes that we can get national voting rights legislation passed and that the Democrats can strengthen their majorities in order to govern more effectively. It’s probably too much to hope that the Republicans will decide to honor their oaths and help to govern, which is sad and frustrating and scary.

Who knows what the next year will bring and what January 6, 2023 will look like?
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: Bob Dole

I stood up for those going hungry not as a leader in my party but as someone who had seen too many folks sweat through a hard day’s work without being able to put dinner on the table.

Senator Bob Dole, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 98

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/12/08/one-liner-wednesday-decisions-decisions/

alarm

Because of family circumstances, I have spent most of the last six years focused on taking care of various generations, fitting in some writing and environmental/social justice advocacy as time and energy allowed.

During all those years, there has been an undercurrent of increasing alarm and distress over the unraveling of the social structure and government of the United States.

The roots of the current dysfunction predate the Trump candidacy and presidency. While there has always been racism, discrimination, and prejudice in the US, it became more overt during the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the first Black man to be elected to that office. There were wild conspiracies that President Obama had not been born in the United States, that he was secretly a Muslim terrorist, that he was going to take away all the civilian guns, and on and on.

During his presidency, we also saw the Republican party lying and fear-mongering about legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act. They blocked valid appointments to executive and judicial branch posts. It was the precursor to the current situation where the Republicans have essentially stopped cooperating in governing, even on previously non-partisan issues like raising the debt ceiling and voting rights. They have even blocked votes on nearly all the ambassadorial appointments, so that President Biden is in Europe for global meetings without having ambassadors in most of the countries involved.

The Trump presidency seemed to radicalize – or, at least, reveal unexpressed sentiments of – a swath of the electorate who, through fear or inability to distinguish between truth and lies, have perpetrated or suffered harm because of it.

The largest amount of suffering and death are due to the lies about COVID-19, possible treatments, and vaccines. Because Trump, his administration, and some Republican governors did not convey and act on the evolving medical and research science, the numbers of Republicans/Trump voters who have been sickened or have died from the infection is disproportionately high. It’s sad and appalling. It’s also made it impossible to tamp down community spread in the ways needed to end the pandemic and get our country to the point of establishing a “new normal.” I’m trying to be hopeful that the impending authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to eleven will help to cut down community spread; it may well in some regions, such as the Northeast where I live, that have higher rates of teen and adult immunization, but in places where the majority of adults remain unvaccinated despite almost a year of availability, a higher proportion of people will continue to get sick and die. Those people will include vaccinated people because no vaccine is 100% effective and some people, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, do not build up as strong an immunity from the vaccines. They need the additional protection of being surrounded by vaccinated people so that the virus can’t find enough vulnerable people to infect and stops spreading.

The more terrifying impact for the future of the country is the millions of people who now believe that our elections are rigged and that President Biden is not rightfully serving as president. Court cases, recounts, and audits have shown over and over again that Biden beat Trump. Investigative journalism and official investigations are continuing to reveal how some members of the Trump administration tried to engineer overturning the election results. Some of these machinations boiled over into the attempted insurrection on January 6th, which, even though much of it was recorded and has been attested to by Trump supporters who were participants, many Republican officeholders claim was not really an insurrection. Many Congressional Republicans refuse to even state the obvious truth that Joe Biden was fairly elected president, despite there being no credible evidence of wide-spread election fraud.

Cynically, these same Republicans are now voting against legislation that will strengthen voting rights to ensure that all eligible voters can have their say in our elections, even as some states are acting to restrict voting rights and putting in place partisan election officials or even giving state legislatures the power to appoint presidential electors pledged to the candidate that did not win the popular vote.

These kinds of things are terrifying because they have occurred in the past when autocrats have come to power. I have heard several interviews with Timothy Synder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which are stark reminders of parallels between recent currents in the US and a number of countries in Europe in the last century where democracy was subverted by fascism, Nazism, or communism. (Ironically, many current Republicans try to paint Democrats or Independents as being socialist or communist when they are actually continuing to espouse capitalism and US constitutional values.) There have also been several more recent books looking specifically at the current state of democracy in the US, including Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could by Rep. Adam Schiff.

While I know my own reach is limited, I make sure I post facts about vaccines and the pandemic. I also post facts about the political situation. Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president. The Republican party has no current policy platform, having carried over the 2016 platform at the 2020 convention instead of writing a new one that addresses current issues such as COVID and increased incidence of violence against people of color, people of faith, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather the Republican minority leaders in Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell, instruct their caucuses to vote against all Democratic proposals with only rare exceptions, such as the Senate infrastructure bill.

Tuesday is Election Day. In New York State this year, the elections being contested are local but there are several state-wide ballot propositions which will strengthen our voting laws. I will proudly vote in favor of all those propositions.

I also will continue to participate in civil discussion whenever the opportunity presents itself. Granted, there are not many opportunities these days, but I will continue to try.

SoCS: hope

I have long said that hope is the virtue that I struggle with.

Or maybe it is that I struggle with the intersection of hope and reality.

I do try to keep my hopes realistic, not veering off into fantasy, but lately, it seems, even my realistic hopes get dashed on a regular basis.

On a personal level, my biggest struggle to maintain hope has been with my father’s health condition after a fall four weeks ago. I keep hoping that the medical team will be able to figure out what is causing his increased confusion, disorientation, and fatigue, so that we can make him more comfortable, but we don’t seem to be able to. I am not hoping for a miracle. Paco is 96 and has several underlying health conditions. I know the time we have left with him is limited. I just want to help make things as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I didn’t think this was an unrealistic hope, but perhaps it is.

Even with this personal struggle, there is always an awareness of what is going around us here in the US. I had hoped that, with several effective vaccines widely available, we could tamp down the pandemic, including the newer and more contagious variants. Instead, we are seeing some areas with very low vaccination rates experiencing spikes in COVID cases. Another realistic hope dashed.

Equally or perhaps even more alarming is the increasingly bizarre behavior of the Republican party. I had hoped that, after what even Republican election officials knew was a fair election, and especially after the horror of the January 6th insurrection and attack on the Capitol, the Republicans would fulfill their Constitutional duties and govern, at this point as the minority party. But they are not. In states that have a Republican legislature, especially if there is a Republican governor, too, we are seeing rafts of legislation that try to suppress votes of people who are less likely to choose Republican candidates. This isn’t just another dashed hope. It feels dystopian.

Of course, some hopes are more mundane. I had hoped to get an SoCS post written before I fell asleep and I have managed that.

I hope that Paco will have a decent day tomorrow.

And a decent week.

I hope that isn’t too much to hope for.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “hope.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/07/09/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-10-2021/

The American Jobs Plan

At the moment, the Biden administration is meeting with Republican officeholders, including members of Congress, to revise his American Jobs Plan to gain bipartisan support. While many local and state level Republicans support the measure, Republican Congressional leaders are opposing it.

The plan is often referred to as the infrastructure bill and much of the debate has revolved around the definition of infrastructure. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of infrastructure is “the system of public works of a country, state, or region also the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity.” The Congressional Republicans have been using the more narrow “public works” definition and complaining the bill goes far beyond “roads and bridges” which is true, but, while we certainly do need investment in car/truck transportation, the country needs much more than that.

In the transportation sector, we need to upgrade airports and railways, subways and bus systems, and charging systems for electric vehicles. Our electrical grid is antiquated and fragile, leading to horrible consequences such as the Texas blackout this part winter. It needs to be modernized to better incorporate distributed and utility-scale renewable energy and storage, which will make energy systems cheaper and more reliable. Water and sewer systems need massive overhauls to eliminate lead pipes, avert leaks, and bring clean drinking water to places that still do not have access. (One of the truly heart-breaking deficiencies in our water systems brought to public notice during the pandemic was that many people living on Tribal lands do not have access to clean running water needed for the recommended hand-washing protocols and daily life in general. The infection and death rates among indigenous peoples were higher than average, due to the ongoing lack of resources and medical care.)

The pandemic also pointed out the inequities in our communication systems. With so much learning and so many jobs going online, fast and reliable internet access became essential. Those with low income and rural folks suffered when they didn’t have those services available. This deficit has been obvious for a number of years and a few states, such as New York, have been working on it, but it is better to have the federal government involved to make sure that no one is left out.

The US also needs a lot of upgrades to buildings. Many of our schools, hospitals, and housing units are deficient in their heating/cooling/ventilation systems and need insulation and energy efficiency upgrades. Some also need structural work and renovation. Sadly, this impacts low-income areas more than high-income areas. Again, the federal government needs to step in to make sure that all people have safe, functional buildings.

The part of the plan that Congressional Republicans object to the most is support for our care system. There has long been a dearth of high-quality, affordable caregivers for children, elders, and people with debilitating illnesses or conditions, due in part to the low wages paid for this kind of work. During the pandemic, many child-care centers and schools closed, leaving parents with the tasks of 24/7 childcare plus tutoring, often combined with paid jobs. This impacted mothers more than fathers, with many more women leaving the workforce or cutting back hours of paid work to tend to caregiving duties. Now that more employers are wanting people to work on site, parents are faced with difficulties in trying to find child or elder care that they can afford. It’s also worth noting that the US is woefully behind other advanced economies in supporting social needs. The greater support for caregiving, health, and education in the UK versus the US was an important factor in my daughter and son-in-law deciding to settle their family in the UK.

The American Jobs Plan has provisions to support caregiving, such as paying good wages to people who provide care and good wages to other workers so that they can afford to pay for care if they need to. It also offers free access to pre-school for three- and four-year-olds and community college for high school grads. Somehow, Congressional Republicans have twisted this into a negative, arguing that the Plan is against family caregiving and would force more years of mandatory schooling. The pre-school and community college funding is available to all, but not compulsory. The option to choose family caregiving would expand if one salary can support the household, leaving a second adult free to engage in unpaid caregiving or to take an outside job without having all the money earned go to pay the cost of care. For households with only one adult, affordable, high-quality care availability makes it possible to work and support their family. One of the difficulties with the pandemic economic recovery is that many employers are not offering enough hours at a high enough wage for workers to be able to cover living expenses, often including caregiving costs. The answer to this problem is not to cut off unemployment payments as some have suggested; the answer is to pay living wages for all jobs. If a business cannot afford to pay its workers a living wage, it does not have a viable business plan and should not be operating.

What strikes me about the Congressional Republican position is that they favor jobs, like construction, that are predominantly filled by males, while discounting jobs, like caregiving and education, that are predominantly filled by females. In many areas, caregiving jobs are held predominantly by women of color. The Congressional Republican approach to the American Jobs Plan seems to be that physical objects like roads and bridges and the workers that make them are more important than people and the work to care for and educate them.

This is unfortunate. The Plan’s comprehensiveness is one of the things that impresses me the most. It integrates employment with addressing social, environmental, and justice concerns. For example, it creates jobs for workers displaced by the winding down of fossil fuel extraction to cap abandoned wells and clean up mines. It creates a Civilian Climate Corps to help us conserve land and prepare for future conditions. There are provisions to support US research and development and manufacturing within the country to boost employment and make sure we have supplies of important products made here to avoid shortages, especially in crisis situations. We all saw what happened in the early months of the pandemic when masks, gloves, and other medical equipment were in short supply because they were almost all imported goods. The Plan also looks to increased membership in unions which traditionally facilitate good wages and worker protection measures.

While the American Jobs Plan has majority support among the public, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that no Republicans will vote for it. I don’t know if that will change after negotiations are complete. If the vote fails in the Senate after negotiations because Republicans still are not on board, then the Democrats should pass the original bill under budget reconciliation rules.

I should also point out that the Plan includes a way to pay for the costs over time, mostly through corporate tax reform and enforcement. The Republicans don’t like that. The public does. When pollsters ask about the American Jobs Plan and include the payment mechanism in the description, the approval rating rises even higher.

I do have a Republican representative in Congress and I ask her and her colleagues to think about whether they are there to serve their constituents or their corporate donors. We’ll be able to tell their answer by how they vote on this bill.

what?

After the January sixth insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden, I thought that most Republican members of Congress would decide to fulfill their Constitutional duty and cooperate in governing the nation.

I was spectacularly wrong.

Instead, the vast majority of the Republican members have decided to lie about the fact that the insurrectionists were supporters of Donald Trump who injured police officers and sought to intimidate and harm the vice president and Congresspeople. They are also lying about the integrity and outcome of the election, despite the fact that there were Republican observers and officeholders who oversaw the election and certified the results in every locality and state.

Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president of the United States under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Any member of Congress who does not give assent and support to that should resign immediately as they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution.

For the House members, all of whom run for two-year terms and so were also in races in November 2020, how can they say with a straight face that the results in the presidential race were fraudulent but that their own elections were valid? They ran on the same ballot.

The few Republicans who are standing up for election integrity are being maligned by their colleagues and the state Republican apparatus. The most salient battle at the moment involves Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She is the current House Republican Conference Chair, the third highest leader of the caucus. She is also the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was vice president under George W. Bush. She is very conservative, which used to be a hallmark of the Republican party. Because of her principles, she weighed the evidence and voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection. She also acknowledges that Joe Biden won a free and fair election and is now legitimately serving as president.

Although she retained her leadership post in a secret ballot of the caucus in February, there is likely to be another vote in the coming week that will remove her from the House leadership.

Given that the Republican party has overwhelmingly turned into the Trump party, I think that Liz Cheney and the handful of other Republicans in Congress that have retained their Constitutional and conservative principles should create a new conservative Congressional caucus. This caucus could engage in good faith negotiations with the Democratic leadership to give input and amendments to legislation with the prospect for voting in favor of the legislation when it gets to the floor.

While there are currently some Republican members of Congress talking to the Democratic leadership and the White House on bills, the Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, have made clear that no Republicans will vote in favor of any legislation proposed by Biden and the Democrats. I don’t know what would happen if Cheney in the House and Senators Romney, Collins, and/or Murkowski in the Senate formed a conservative caucus. The Republican party might throw them out, saying they could no longer run as Republicans in their states. In that case, they could either run as independents or form their own conservative party. Indeed, Murkowski has previously won an independent write-in campaign in Alaska and Collins, who just won re-election and won’t be on the ballot again until 2026, serves the state of Maine whose other senator, Angus King, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Anyone who joined the conservative caucus might lost their next election because of it.

At least, they would lose knowing that as public servants they had stood up for their country and their principles at a time when our democracy is under grave threat.

It’s what patriots do.

Biden’s speech

Last night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, although only a fraction of the members and a few guests and the press were present because of COVID limits on large indoor gatherings.

The real intended audience, though, is the American public among whom the president’s speech was well-received. A CBS/YouGov poll found 85% approval among Americans who watched the speech.

For me, it was easy to see why.

For over forty years, the federal government has been characterized as an obstacle rather than a solution to the problems everyday Americans face. We were told that tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals would “trickle down” to create more jobs, that spending on public projects was wasteful “pork barrel”, that our education and health systems were unparalleled, that hard work led to personal prosperity, that is was okay for Republican administrations to run huge deficits – in part to wage unfunded wars – but not for Democratic administrations.

Although many of us understood that the country was in trouble before the pandemic, 2020 revealed the weak state of our national government and the precariousness of most people’s lives. It showed the nation how dependent we are on what are now called essential workers, most of whom are poorly paid and who often don’t have even basic benefits like paid sick leave and health insurance. We saw the rates of illness and death, staggering in and of themselves, disproportionately higher among people of color and those in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances. We saw that most of our school buildings could not be made safe for staff and students and that many students and families did not have the proper resources available for remote learning. We saw our medical systems pushed beyond their limits. We saw vast inequality in outcomes among states because the Trump administration refused to lead in a time of national and international crisis.

I could go on but I think that this sets the stage for those who may not be familiar with life in the US.

After a major presidential address to Congress, the opposition party gives a response. Last night, this task fell to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. He claimed that, as Biden was inaugurated on January 20th, the nation was on the upswing. If the Republican leadership truly believes that, they are delusional. January 20th was only two weeks after the insurrection that breached the Capitol building where they meet for the first time in over 200 years. The country suffered 4,380 COVID deaths on January 20th, on its way to what would become the deadliest month of the pandemic in the US to date.

The country was in a fragile, precarious state.

One hundred days of competent and compassionate national leadership makes a huge difference.

Experiencing that change is what made Biden’s speech so popular and, more importantly, what makes his policy proposals and how to pay for them popular, as well. The American people want good transportation systems, water/sewer systems, electrical grid, communication systems, and fast internet service. They want high-quality affordable health care. They want a strong education system available to everyone regardless of where they live. They want high-quality care for children, elders, and anyone who is sick or vulnerable. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to live in safety. They want to be paid wages that can support themselves and their families in the present and that enable them to save for the future.

They see other advanced democracies manage to do those things, while the United States has been falling behind. Instead, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 1% of individuals and corporations, some of whom pay their executives huge sums while some of their employees need public assistance programs to have enough to eat and to pay rent. Many of the wealthiest people make most of their income from investments rather than from salaries, so they pay tax at a much lower rate.

This is why the Biden proposals to raise revenue from the highest income earners are popular with the public. All of the revenue for the programs would be raised from those with income over $400,000. The changes in the capital gains rates would only impact those over $1,000,000 in income. There is also a proposal to increase audits for high-income earners and to make it harder to avoid income taxes by using off-shore tax shelters. The corporate tax rate which was slashed by the Republicans in the 2017 tax bill would rise, although not to the level it was before that bill was passed.

This all strikes most Americans as fair.

We are in a bizarre situation where many Republican voters and local/state officeholders are in favor of Biden’s proposals but Republican members of Congress are opposed. The national Republican party is beholden to rich donors and is going to need to decide if they want to get on board and seriously negotiate with Democrats on these bills and then support the final product to benefit the people of their districts or if they are going to obstruct everything the Democrats try to do.

Now is the time that each member of Congress needs to remember that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are there to serve the people, not their party leadership.

It’s time to fulfill their promise in the Preamble to “promote the general welfare.”

filibuster update

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I sometimes – and more frequently in recent years – wade into the political waters of the US. Last October, I mentioned the Senate filibuster and my hopes that is would be reformed, tangentially in this post and fleshed out a bit in the comments.

Remarkably, these early weeks of the Biden administration have given rise to a lot of public discussion of the filibuster and how this arcane Senate rule might be reformed or eliminated so that legislation can pass the Senate by majority vote rather than needing 60 of 100 senators to end debate and proceed to a vote. This is called “invoking cloture.”

For decades, filibusters and cloture votes were rare. Maddeningly, filibusters were used to attempt to derail legislation on civil rights, voting rights, labor rights, and anti-lynching. (Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has tried to argue that the filibuster was not used as a racist tool, but this twitter thread from Kevin Kruse proves him wrong with a long, but not exhaustive, list of past racially-motivated filibusters.)

During the Obama presidency, McConnell and the Republicans frequently used the filibuster to slow or prevent approving appointments and to keep legislation from reaching the floor for a vote. This was possible because all a senator needed to do was to say they wanted to filibuster and it would take sixty votes to end it, which, with all the Republicans sticking together, meant that there were never enough votes to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote. This led to a rule change that appointments were not subject to the filibuster, though other kinds of legislation still were.

One of the reforms to the process currently being discussed is to require that a senator wanting to filibuster must stay on the Senate floor and speak on the bill being debated. This revives the practice that was in place until 1975, although senators then weren’t required to speak on the bill and could read from the phone book or cookbooks or talk about totally unrelated topics.

There is also a proposal to change the cloture vote. Rather than needing sixty votes to end the debate, which puts the burden on the majority, the new rule would be that 40 or 41 senators would need to vote to continue the debate. This preserves the ability of the minority to put forth their arguments on something they feel strongly about but requires them to put forth effort to do so.

The hope is that these two reforms would break the stranglehold on bills that became so stark during the Obama administration. It might also engender more bipartisan bills actually making it to the Senate floor for a vote. (Mitch McConnell famously once filibustered his own bill when it became clear that President Obama would sign the bill into law. McConnell valued gridlock over governing.)

Or, given that it is just a Senate rule and not a law, the filibuster could be eliminated. Many think this would be the simplest path, but a few Democratic senators are vehemently opposed to ending it totally, although the impetus for reform is definitely gaining momentum.

While I had hoped that, under President Biden who was a long-time senator, some of the more moderate Republicans would want to vote for common-sense and popular bills such as the American Rescue Plan, we have yet to see that happen. The American Rescue Plan, despite its popularity with the public and its many provisions that benefit people in their states, garnered no votes from Republicans in Congress; it passed with a simple majority in the Senate due to special budgetary rules that prevented a filibuster.

There are now some popular and much-needed bills that have passed the House that will become test cases on whether or not bipartisan support is possible or whether it will take filibuster reform or elimination to get them on the floor for a vote. The For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1) addresses voting rights, campaign finance reform, government ethics, gerrymandering, and election security. Further voting rights issues are addressed in the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, on the grounds that these racial provisions were now obsolete. Sadly, we have seen evidence that they are not, as efforts are now underway in 43 states to restrict voting access to certain groups of people, including by making it harder for people of color to vote or by making it more difficult for students or elders to register and vote by mail.

There are two House-passed gun safety bills, one on universal background checks and one extending the time the FBI has to vet purchasers to ten days instead of the current three. Both of these measures have broad public support, including among Republicans and gunowners. An increase in the federal minimum wage is very popular with the public, as are bills to re-build our infrastructure, increase our production of goods and green energy to create sustainable jobs, and to increase taxes on the very wealthy.

If bills like these pass the House and appear on the Senate floor, what will the Republicans do? Will they vote yes in accord with their constituents? Will they filibuster to stop a vote from occurring? If they do decide to filibuster, they risk the Democrats reforming the filibuster, voting that certain kinds of bills such as voting rights are not subject to it, or eliminating it all together.

Fingers crossed that whatever scenario unfolds, these laws will be enacted for the common good. We have been waiting for Congress to actually participate in governing in the way the Constitution sets before them.

again and again and again

I didn’t want to write about mass shootings in the United States today. I’ve written way too many posts about this in the past, most recently about the Atlanta-area shootings last week.

But here we are again, mourning the deaths of ten people, including a responding police officer, at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. A suspect is in custody, but it is early in the investigation so many details are not yet public.

It is likely that this will become the third Colorado mass shooting to lodge in the nation’s consciousness along with the high school in Columbine and the movie theater in Aurora.

The list of mass shootings in the United States is so long that only some of them are invoked as a litany. I live near Binghamton, New York, which suffered a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. This post that I wrote for the fifth anniversary of that shooting explains why I think Binghamton is not part of that litany.

There has long been a majority of the public in favor of taking measures nationally to curb gun violence. Some of the proposals are universal background checks to purchase firearms, limits on size of ammunition clips, banning of military-style assault weapons, and requiring gun licensing. At this point, each state has its own laws with some allowing municipalities to enact stricter regulations and others not.

There are also proposals to better diagnose and treat mental health issues. Some mass shooters, such as the one in Binghamton, suffer from mental illness. The biggest potential reduction in deaths from firearms related to mental health would be from self-inflicted shootings. In the United States, suicides account for the largest percentage of gun deaths every year. (For help with issues about suicide in the United States, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .)

What compounds the recent tragedies in Atlanta and Boulder, though, is that there will be sadness, outrage, prayers, vigils, fundraisers, and hopes that this will be the time when Congress finally takes action – and they won’t. Again.

And then, inevitably, there will be another mass shooting which gets attention and hundreds of other murders and thousands of suicides which won’t.

And the cycle will repeat.

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