Tag Archives: Mitch McConnell

It Already Stinks

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, during oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, December 1, 2021.

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed this trenchant question during oral arguments over a Mississippi abortion law that may be the vehicle for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a nearly 50-year precedent guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion.

The justice’s question is premised on the obvious fact that not much has changed since the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade. There have been no vast scientific or medical advances regarding the procedure. No novel legal theories have emerged on whether the Constitution does or does not protect a woman’s right to choose. Public opinion has hardly shifted on the issue for the last 50 years. Only one thing has changed. The Supreme Court now has a majority of very conservative justices who are determined to restrict, at least severely, access to abortion if not overturn Roe outright.

Sotomayor rightly worries that a purely political decision on such a controversial issue as abortion endangers the existence of the high court. “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” she asked. “How will the court survive?” The concern over the politicization of the pending decision — expected next June or July — is buttressed, as Sotomayor pointed out, by the admission of the bill’s sponsors that they passed the law only because there are new, very conservative justices on the court.

The stability of public opinion on abortion is remarkable. Since 1975, the percentage of Americans who believe abortion should be legal in at least certain circumstances has hovered between 76 percent and 83 percent, while the percentage who would ban the procedure in all circumstances has remained consistently in the high teens. Not only would a high court decision allowing states to ban (or severely limit) abortion be a political decision, it would be a political decision that runs counter to the views of a large majority of Americans. 

The politicization of the court’s pending decision on abortion is magnified by the politicization of the court itself. There are a majority of conservatives on the court even though Democratic presidential candidates won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Two presidents who were in the office only because of the Electoral College nominated five of those justices. To put it bluntly: The Supreme Court is dominated by conservative jurists appointed by presidents elected by a minority of voters. 

And, then there are the machinations of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell who — in a display of brazen political power lacking either constitutional or historical justification — manipulated senatorial rules to prevent President Barack Obama from appointing a successor to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell’s flimsy rationale: Scalia died in the last year of Obama’s term in office. When Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died less than two months before the 2020 election, McConnell tossed his new standard out the window so he could rush the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett before the electionthans. 

Barrett, perhaps sensitive to the political nature of her appointment, gave a recent speech in which she claimed, “This court is not comprised of political hacks.” She added, “Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.” I might give more credence to Barrett’s words had she uttered them some place other than the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. Yep, that McConnell, the senator who strong-armed her appointment to the Supreme Court!

Overturning Roe, which appears likely based on the questions the justices asked Wednesday, will be the capstone to a alarming number of political decisions made by the Supreme Court in the last two decades. Bush v. Gore was premised on legal arguments, as one academic phrased it, that “would further the election of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush.” Citizens United reversed century-old campaign restrictions previously upheld by the courts, again an instance of the only thing that changed was the makeup of the court itself. The same can be said of the high court’s ruling in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County, and while he is often viewed as an institutionalist who believes the court should tread carefully and incrementally, he is a longtime antagonist of the 1965 voting law. So, in a signal of the political brazenness of the current conservative majority, the Roberts-led court eviscerated another section of that law in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committeedecided last Junefurther tipping the electoral scales in favor of the Republican Party by allowing states to deny whole groups of Democratic-leaning voters access to the ballot. 

In addition to the pending abortion decision, the Supreme Court is slated in the current term to hear highly political cases involving the right to carry concealed weapons outside the home, the fate of affirmative action, and a religious case that could erode the separation of church and state. As the recent past indicates, and the possible future may buttress, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court issues political decisions frequently.

Unfortunately, Justice Sotomayor, there is already a stench issuing from the Supreme Court. The likely overturning of Roe is a political act, but the high court already stinks because of its numerous political acts — and the politicization of its makeup — over the last few decades.

Posted December 3, 2021


There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.


Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021



democratic (small d) Power Grab

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the emperor with no clothes from Kentucky, calls the sweeping election reform bill Democrats back a “partisan power grab.”

Well, yes, guilty as charged! Democrats, indeed, will benefit from a federal election law that ends gerrymandering, prevents voter suppression, overturns state laws that permit voter nullification, makes election day a federal holiday, and limits the corrupting power of big money in politics. Democrats (with a big D) will benefit from democracy (with a small d). Free and fair elections, which the voting reform bill insures, means more people will vote, and more people voting is a good thing for Democrats.

So, yes, Republicans are right, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It is also a democratic power grab. And, it is the right thing to do.

It is, of course, always easy to be cynical about politics and politicians. But, sometimes, shocking as it may seem, self-interest and doing the right thing align. It happens!

As the advocacy group Public Citizen tweeted in response to McConnell, “This is a bill that stops voter suppression and ends gerrymandering. How depraved do you have to be to insist that more people voting is somehow a power grab? What sort of anti-democratic garbage is that.” Public Citizen, in a separate tweet, also noted, “Mitch McConnell is absolutely terrified of a bill that simply makes it easier for people to vote. This tells you all you need to know.”

As I have pointed out before, Republicans have understood, for decades, that more people voting is bad for Republican electoral chances. As early as 1980, Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, said, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” For more than a decade, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch-funded organization, has written draft legislation for Republican state legislators to introduce that impedes voters at every step in the electoral process. And, former President Donald Trump said in March 2020, that if the Democratic election reform bill passes, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump may well be right. After all, since 1992 the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once — George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats routinely outpoll Republicans in cumulative votes for members of the House and Senate, but the distribution of seats in both chambers rarely reflects the vote totals. Republican representation in the House benefits from gerrymandering, which allows state legislatures to draw congressional district lines to the benefit of their party. Both parties do this, of course, but in recent decades, gerrymandering has helped Republicans more than Democrats. 

Republicans benefit from institutional protections that cannot easily be changed, if at all. The Electoral College elevated George W. Bush in 2000 (with help from the Supreme Court) and Donald Trump in 2016 to the presidency even though both candidates lost the popular vote. Republicans have disproportionate power in the Senate because of the constitutional guarantee that gives each state two senators, insuring that small Red states such as Wyoming are equal in the Senate to large Blue states such as California.

But, those constitutional protections do not satisfy today’s Republican Party. Its leaders understand that even the built-in advantages in the Electoral College and the Senate cannot guarantee Republican dominance. Thus, Republican state legislators for decades, and most assiduously since the 2020 election, have been passing legislation to suppress the vote and give Republican state officials the power to overturn election results. Yes, in other words, to give Republican state officials the power to take away citizens’ votes. 

The problem Republicans have is that the modern version of the party is beholden to special interests and to the very wealthiest of Americans. The concerns of the groups and individuals Republicans represent do not align with those of most Americans, so to win elections, Republicans hide their indebtedness to special interests like the fossil fuel industry by claiming, for example, their opposition to new energy sources is rooted in economic growth. In a more sinister vein, Republicans often appeal to the baser instincts of the electorate by railing against immigration and stoking White fears about the growing electoral power of people of color. 

That kind of political flimflam only goes so far, so Republicans have to back it up with measures to limit the vote to people receptive to their messages. Republicans are right: The more people who can vote, the worse it is for the party. And, so at the state level, Republicans pass legislation to limit the vote and, at the federal level, Republicans filibuster every attempt by Democrats to enact legislation to guarantee American elections are free, fair, and democratic. 

So, yes, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It advances democracy, and it is a democratic (small d) power grab. It is also the right thing to do.

Posted October 26, 2021 

Time’s Up, Senator!

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Open letter to Senator Joe Manchin,* Democrat of West Virginia:

You tried, Senator! You helped draft a compromise on voting rights — fashioning a bill not quite as good as the one the House passed earlier, but still good — and took it to Republicans. You told your colleagues in the Democratic senatorial caucus that you could get 10 Republican votes for the compromise. Well, you were wrong. The Republicans would not even allow a vote to come to the floor! So, now is the time to move boldly and reform the filibuster to pass legislation to protect the fundamental basis of a democratic government: The right to vote!

Because, senator, here’s the thing: Our democracy is at stake. If the federal government does not move to protect voting rights for all Americans in every state, then no election in the future truly will reflect the will of the people. Millions of Democratic-leaning voters — particularly young people and people of color — will be denied access to the ballot, tilting the field toward Republicans. And, even if Democrats manage to eke out victories, Republican legislators have given partisan state officials wide authority to overturn election results. And, the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect the electoral system, given how Republicans — led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — have stacked that body with politically motivated (though some justices publicly have denied this) conservatives.

If you, Senator Manchin, and your Democratic colleagues do not secure passage of S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act, then the game is up. Republicans now control the Supreme Court. Without federal guarantees of free and fair elections, Republicans easily will win a majority in the House in 2022 and probably the Senate. In 2024, candidate Donald Trump could well lose the presidential election by millions of votes and lose the Electoral College by an even greater margin than in 2020, but still be inaugurated as president on January 20, 2025. How? Easily, as Republican legislatures in such states as Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, aided by compliant governors, certify Republican electors even though the Democrats secured a majority of the popular vote. They will do in the next presidential election what Trump tried to do in the last. 

Fanciful, you say? No, the road map from 2020 is in place. If this happens — and it is a very real possibility — then Democrats will never, at least not in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children — wield political power again. Imagine a world in which Republicans dominate all the levers of the federal government and many state governments, as well. You think we have problems now? Imagine what the tax code will look like. You think the United States suffers from income inequality today? Imagine the disparity in income and wealth under Republicans who have no fear of ever losing power again. 

I know you represent a coal-producing state, senator, but even West Virginians have to be concerned about climate change. Well, if you think it is getting warmer now, think again about how hot it might be 20 or 30 years from now if the federal government does not take steps — any steps — to control carbon emissions. Think about the levels of pollution in our water and in the air we breathe.

You are a conservative Democrat, Senator Manchin, but still a Democrat, if only for a bit longer. I would wager you care about some of the priorities in the huge budget reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden supports. Do you think any of the provisions you favor in that bill will ever become law if Republicans can do as they please? Or, stay as law if you manage to squeak legislation through this term?

All of this is why passing the Freedom to Vote Act is so important. Nothing gets done — or stays done — without it. You know this, which is why you worked with several of your Democratic colleagues on the legislation. If passed, this bill will override restrictive state laws that make voting more difficult. It will prevent Republican voting officials from purging voter rolls, and it will guarantee mail-in voting. The bill curbs gerrymandering, limits dark money, and prevents state officials from manipulating election results. As you well know, these are good things for a democracy, senator!

This bill is foundational. You know that, which is why you worked on it. You thought a compromise might attract Republican senators. Well, nice try! Wednesday, in the Senate, all 50 Republicans voted against permitting debate on the bill. They invoked the filibuster, preventing even consideration of this all-important legislation. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer put it, “If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

The sentiments Schumer uttered should be obvious to all, but in the Senate of today, that is not the case. Republicans — who voted overwhelmingly for extensions to the Voting Rights law in the past, and most recently as 2006, without a dissenting vote — now are so afraid of Donald Trump and the power of his “Big Lie” that they are willing to overthrow American democracy in order to protect their pathetic political careers.

Do not let them get away with it! 

Get the Freedom to Vote Act passed, even if it means limiting or overturning the filibuster!


A Concerned Voter

*Manchin is not the only Democratic senator clinging to the filibuster, but he has been most vocal about it, and he suggested he could deliver Republican votes.

Posted October 22, 2021

Donald Trump, Please Keep Talking

If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do. — Statement by Donald Trump, the former president, October 13, 2021.


Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I think I speak for all progressives and a good smattering of moderates when I say: Go, Donnie, go! Whip up your supporters into a frenzy of not voting. The more they heed you, the better. 

After all, the non-voting strategy worked well in the two Georgia Senate runoff races in January 2021. In early December, two Trump allies, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Republicans not to vote for either Kelly Loeffler or Davide Perdue, the incumbent senators locked in a tight race against Democratic challengers. “Don’t be fooled twice,” Wood said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again.” 

Yes, sir, that strategy worked well! Georgia Republicans apparently are not dumb(?) and, heeding Wood’s advice, were not fooled twice. According to an analysis of the election results by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 750,000 Georgians who cast ballots in the November presidential election stayed home during the runoffs two months later. More than half of the no-shows were White and many lived in rural areas, demographic and geographic constituencies that lean heavily Republican. As one Georgian said, “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed.” 

The non-voting strategy worked so well that Democrats now control the Senate, albeit barely.

With Democrats divided among themselves over advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda and given the traditional bounce the party out of power gets in mid-term elections, Democrats may need oodles of Republicans to stay home in 2022 if they are to retain control of both the House and the Senate. The current Democratic razor-thin majorities in Congress would benefit greatly from great numbers of Republican no-shows around the country. 

Trump phrased his communication as a declarative statement, announcing that Republicans will not vote because of alleged fraud. But, like much of what Trump says to his followers, the above statement is likely to be interpreted by many in the Trump cult as a command not to vote, which probably was Trump’s intention. 

To the members of the Trump cult, it matters little that neither Trump nor his lawyers or sycophants have presented a shred of evidence of electoral fraud. If the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago says he lost because of fraud, then it must be so for his ever loyal and unquestioning followers. And, presumably, millions of Republicans will heed his orders and not vote. 

So, here is one progressive’s dream-like scenario. With millions of Trump followers not voting in 2022, the Democrats win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats win over 300 seats in the House and dominate the Senate by a margin of 67-33. The House easily passes a raft of progressive legislation, and the paltry number of Republicans in the Senate are unable to filibuster the Biden agenda. Not only are Senate Republicans and naked-Emperor Mitch McConnell (see previous blog post) rendered impotent, but moderate Democrats — like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — are overwhelmed and can no longer derail progressive legislation.

In early 2023, Democrats enact measures (or expand on the incomplete legislation of 2021) guaranteeing free community college for all, child care for toddlers, child tax credits, expanded Medicare and Medicaid (perhaps even Medicare-for-All), the Green New Deal, paid parental leave, and much more. Immigration is reformed, giving millions of the undocumented a pathway to citizenship. And, voting rights are protected by a bill that enshrines early voting and mail-in balloting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and rolls back all the Republican-passed state laws that suppress and nullify the vote and disempower state officials in their roles in the electoral process.

Trump and his followers wake up and realize that not voting is not a very good idea. But, since they conceded the 2022 election to Democrats, the 2024 presidential election will be free and fair. Even as Republicans flock to the polls again, their votes cannot change the outcome. Tens of millions of Americans are pleased with the Democratic legislation that has brought the United States into the modern world, guaranteeing a social safety net comparable to that of other industrialized democracies. And, all those pleased Americans can now vote freely and fairly, without the threat of Republicans suppressing and nullifying the votes of those who tend to vote Democratic. So, Joe Biden sweeps to a landslide re-election and the Democrats retain their large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Go ahead, Donnie, please keep issuing statements. You may be the Democrats’ best friend yet!

Posted October 15, 2021

So… The Emperor Has No Clothes

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Most political analysts assume Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master strategist who knows how to use (or bend) the Senate’s rules to achieve his ends. That is the prevailing interpretation based on McConnell’s career in the Senate and his sometimes dubious accomplishments, such as pilfering a seat on the Supreme Court by denying Merrick Garland a vote and ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

But, what if the emperor has no clothes? Is it possible that the unnecessary and silly dispute over raising the debt ceiling reveals not McConnell’s wiliness and strength but, rather, his impotence?

McConnell admitted as much in recent days when he conceded that even if he wanted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on a straight party vote, with Republicans voting “no” but not filibustering the measure, he could not corral every Republican to allow the increase to pass. McConnell did convince 10 Republicans to approve a procedural move to allow the Democrats to move forward a stopgap bill raising the debt ceiling through early December. That bill passed Thursday night on a straight party vote. But, the concession is a temporary, not a long-term, fix, and its passage left some  Senate Republicans angry with McConnell because they think he caved into the Democrats. 

Most analysts agree the majority of the Republican caucus would stand aside and allow the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase rather than force the United States to default on its debts. But, there are a few diehard conservatives among Republicans — perhaps five or so senators — who would filibuster any proposal that would allow a majority vote on the issue. If one senator objects, then it would take 10 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to end a filibuster. That would reveal dissension among Republicans, something that McConnell would not want made public. 

The debt ceiling standoff — temporarily ended, though it may be — is yet another argument for abolishing the filibuster. The filibuster has become a tool of Republican obstructionism, allowing a willful, petulant minority to prevent the majority from doing the people’s business. Something is wrong with a system that allows one senator to filibuster a measure and the rest of his or her colleagues refusing to vote to stop that obstructionism. Republican senators represent 40 million fewer voters than Democratic senators, yet the Senate is evenly split. It is likely to get worse. According to estimates, by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be living in the 15 most populous states. They will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf. 

The filibuster gives a small minority of a minority the power to prevent popular legislation from passing. It is absurd that a handful of senators, from small states, can prevent passage of popular measures to protect the environment, raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration policy. Both parties, of course, have wielded the filibuster in recent years to frustrate the other, but McConnell and his Republican colleagues have utilized the filibuster to bolster minority power in ways never intended by either the Framers of the Constitution or by senators through most of American history.

Fear that Democrats might take steps to abolish or limit the filibuster probably convinced Republicans to yield temporarily on the debt ceiling increase. While the filibuster is hard to justify ever, its use on matters that are not issues of policy — such as the United States honoring its debts — is beyond the pale. Everyone on both sides of the aisle insists that the United States must not default on its obligations, yet Republicans were willing to prevent a vote that would allow the country to honor its debt. Invoking the filibuster on the debt ceiling was not policy, but political maneuvering by Republicans aimed at making Democrats as uncomfortable as possible and, ultimately, allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as profligate spenders. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham conceded the political motives of Republicans when he said, “I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about it [raising the debt ceiling]. But, I’m going to make them take some tough votes.” Good to know that Graham sees himself as only a partial “asshole.”

Democrats have been inching toward doing something about the filibuster by either eliminating it entirely or carving out categories of legislation that would not be subject to minority obstruction. Republican intransigence on voting rights, for example, has forced increased demands for reforming the filibuster. The current fight over the debt ceiling has led some who have been hesitant to end the filibuster to change their minds. President Joe Biden — who served decades in the Senate and has been viewed by many as an “institutionalist” — said this week that it is “a real possibility” the Senate would change its rules to bypass Republican filibustering on the debt ceiling. Later, Biden added that filibustering debt legislation is “not right, and it’s dangerous.”

“Republicans are making the case more powerfully than I could a million times on the floor,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a longtime filibuster opponent. “What they are doing is obstruction and utterly exposes the filibuster. And it is not just inconvenience. It is desperately dangerous.” McConnell and other Republicans may have gotten the message that Democrats saw the fight over the debt ceiling as a way to alter the filibuster.

But, that recognition does not change the fact that McConnell cannot control his caucus. The willingness of a handful of Republican senators on the far right to endanger the credit of the United States forced McConnell to deny Democrats any Republican cooperation in allowing a straight party vote on preventing a default. So, perhaps it is McConnell being led by far right conservatives in the Republican Party rather than McConnell leading the Republican caucus.

After all, the emperor has no clothes!

Posted October 8, 2021

Where Is the Bottom?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

How low can Republicans stoop? Every time I think Republicans have hit rock bottom in subservience to former President Donald Trump, willingness to participate in the overthrow of the U.S. government and/or cover up the January 6 insurrection, or jeopardize the health and well-being of their constituents, they shatter the floor with new desperate and dangerous actions.

I should stop being surprised. After all, the modern Republican Party has become a terrorist and/or criminal enterprise. And, its behavior is going to get worse and worse until the voters give Republican candidates such a thumping at the polls that Republicans either have to change course or go the way of the Federalist and Whig Parties. Probably the latter, because there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

A recent shocker — though at this point, not much they do shocks — from Republicans: A memo written by Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman — discussed in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book Peril and obtained by CNN — shows Republicans discussing, and apparently seriously considering, how to overturn the results of the presidential election, which Joe Biden won in a free and fair vote. Eastman’s conspiratorial plot was simple in its proposed execution and deplorable in its probable results. Eastman suggested Vice President Mike Pence — presiding over the joint session of Congress meeting on January 6 to certify the election results — should declare that there are no valid electors from seven closely contested states that recount after recount, and court case after court case, show Biden won. That would give, Eastman proffered, Trump victory in the Electoral College by a tally of 232 to 222.

If the Democrats “howl” no fair since 270 electoral votes are required to win, Eastman said, “fine,” send the matter to the House of Representatives where each state has one vote. Since Republicans control a majority of state delegations, Trump would be re-elected in this scenario. There is more to the memo — such as a filibuster in the Senate by some Republicans to prevent certification of the election results if and when both chambers considered the results — but Eastman’s intended result is clear: Overturning the will of the voters who gave Biden a solid majority in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. 

That Trump was intrigued by the Eastman memo is no surprise. What is most appalling is that Pence apparently paid more attention to the proposed coup than was previously thought. Pressured relentlessly by Trump, Pence asked confidants if it were possible for him to do Trump’s bidding. In late December, according to Woodward and Costa, Pence called former Vice President Dan Quayle, a fellow Indiana Republican, for advice. Quayle was insistent, telling Pence, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Even more horrendous: Trump and his cohort were plotting to overthrow the Constitution based on purported evidence of voter fraud that the Trump team knew was baseless. The New York Times obtained an internal memo prepared by the Trump campaign that debunked the outlandish claims of fraud. Despite this knowledge, lawyers for Trump continued to hold news conferences asserting widespread cheating and filed lawsuits alleging a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Trump. It is not clear who in the campaign knew what concerning the memo, but clearly those in the know sat on the information.

Not satisfied with overthrowing constitutional norms, Republicans once again are playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, apparently willing to see the government default on its loans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says “America must never default” on its debts, yet he refuses to provide any Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt limit is necessary because soon, probably late next month, the government is going to run out of money. The Treasury Department at that point will not be able to borrow because the congressionally mandated borrowing limit will have been reached. This is routine, and both parties have cooperated in a bipartisan manner in the past to raise the debt ceiling. But, this time, McConnell insists the Democrats alone must provide the votes to raise the debt limit, arguing that Democrats are recklessly spending money. That is, of course, a specious argument since the debt comes from money already allocated, not future spending. And, the debt of the United States rose about $8 trillion under Trump, an increase of 36 percent in four years.

Republicans are not only reckless with the political stability of the United States and the nation’s credit. They are also heedless of the health of Americans, especially children. How else to interpret the ruling from Florida’s newly appointed surgeon general who says it is up to parents to decide whether to quarantine children exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Dr. Joseph Ladapo — yes, he is a graduate of Harvard Medical School — eliminated previous rules requiring students to stay away from school for at least four days if they had been exposed to coronavirus. Under Ladapo’s rules, children may continue to attend school if they are asymptomatic.

Republicans are not satisfied merely to oppose mask and vaccine mandates. Now, they are willing to allow children exposed to COVID-19 to attend school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infected people can spread the virus for two days before they display any symptoms. 

In pursuit of political power, Republicans are willing, apparently, to plot insurrections, jeopardize the financial stability of the United States, and risk the health of schoolchildren. So, the answer to the question in the title of this piece is clear: There is no bottom for today’s Republican Party. That is a grave misfortune for us all. 

Posted September 24, 2021

Supremely Undemocratic

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I just read a most frightening book: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court is Reshaping America, by Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent for Vox. Frightening because the Supreme Court, unelected and not answerable to the public due to the life tenure of judges, is reshaping American politics and society in an undemocratic direction not favored by a majority of voters.

The Supreme Court’s recent activism fills a void left by partisan gridlock in Washington. Congress has passed little substantial legislation in the last decade. This may be changing with Democrats in control of Congress and the presidency, but unless Democrats are willing to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, President Joe Biden’s ambitious plans probably will come to naught. Besides, the rightwing tilt of the nation’s high court may well result in the Supreme Court overturning much of whatever legislation Democrats succeed in passing.

While Congress dithered, a conservative Supreme Court was busy, dismantling campaign finance laws, eroding voter protection legislation, weakening Obamacare, undermining the separation of church and state, removing safeguards against sexual and racial harassment, diminishing rules shielding the environment from polluters, and granting employers increased power over hours, wages, and the safety of workers.  Conservatives once decried “judicial activism,” but now that Republicans represent a minority of the nation, the courts have become the last bastion of conservative ideology. Republicans under GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell have been ruthless in insuring Republican domination of the nation’s courts. 

The reshaping of American law by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts will continue in the term starting this October, with the high court poised to overturn abortion protections and end affirmative action in higher education. In addition, the court will hear a lawsuit backed by the National Rifle Association that asserts the constitutional right to carry a weapon outside the home. The case challenges a century-old New York law that requires citizens demonstrate a legitimate self-defense need in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. 

All this is being done by an undemocratic branch of the United States government. The Supreme Court has always been far removed from popular will. The justices, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, hold lifetime jobs and short of some egregious actions warranting impeachment and conviction, they cannot be removed from office. 

Millhiser describes how the Supreme Court has eviscerated voting rights protections in the last decade and predicts further encroachment on equal access to the ballot. He notes that the Supreme Court can weaken democracy because the American constitutional system is, itself, not democratic since not all votes are equal. Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 even though his opponent received three million more votes. While the numbers fluctuate with each election, Republican senators represent 40 million or so fewer people than Democratic senators because conservative red states like Wyoming have the same number of senators as liberal blue state California, even though the latter has a population nearly 70 times greater.

To put it starkly, the last three justices confirmed to the court — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by senators who represent less than half the country. These three justices — all relatively young — have tipped a conservative-leaning court to the far right. The result: An undemocratic cohort of justices is weakening American democracy. 

Much ink has been spilled describing the judicial attack on voting rights. But, as noted above, it is not the only area in which the Roberts-led Supreme Court is removing democratic protections. Of particular note is the attack by the court — led by Neil Gorsuch — on what is often referred to as the “administrative state.”

Governing a modern industrial and technological society is complex. Members of Congress cannot and do not know all the details required in, say, protecting the environment or regulating businesses. All Congress can do — and should do — is pass the broad outlines of policy, such as establishing the limits of permissible carbon emissions into the environment. When Congress acts in such a manner, it considers the best technology available at the time the law is enacted. But, technology changes, so to keep up with these changes, Congress routinely delegates to the various departments and agencies of the executive branch the power to establish rules. And, these departments and agencies may change the rules as needed given technological improvements and societal needs. 

Until recently, the Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases that it is best to allow the executive agencies to flesh out ambiguities in law and to write rules to enforce congressionally passed laws. Gorsuch disagrees, arguing that it is better to give judges, who he says are “independent” of popular whim, this power. Gorsuch would place the rule-writing power, as Millhiser writes, “in the hands of the closest thing the United States has to a medieval nobility — unelected judges who serve for life.”

Gorsuch argues that judges — unlike federal regulators who are answerable to an elected president — are above politics. The justice conveniently forgets that he has his current job because Senate Republicans used raw political power to keep President Barack Obama’s appointee — Merrick Garland — off the bench to put instead a conservative — Gorsuch — on it. Republican Senators knew full well that a Republican judge like Gorsuch is far more likely to issue a conservative judicial decision than a Democratic judge.

Millhiser avoids discussing the remedies for curbing the undemocratic tendencies of an undemocratic institution bent on abrogating democratic rights, but his book provides fodder for calls in recent years to reform the court. Among the suggestions for change are increasing the number of justices (“court-packing”), limiting the tenure of justices, allowing every president to appoint two new justices, and creating a system to select justices on a bipartisan basis.

Whatever the remedy or remedies, the need to act is urgent to insure the continuation of American democracy, which is threatened by the conservative justices who dominate the Supreme Court.

Posted August 31, 2021

Baby Steps

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I think I discern tentative steps — baby steps — indicating cracks in the facade of right-wing Republican extremism and subservience to former president Donald Trump. Two recent events indicate that some semblance of common sense may be appearing within Republican ranks. I stress the may be, but the votes of 17 Republican senators to take up a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and the results in Tuesday’s special election in Texas seem to indicate a return to levelheadedness in a party that has gone off the rails in the last several years.

The infrastructure bill has not yet been drafted, but the 67-32 vote in the Senate to move the package forward and begin debate came hours after a centrist bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise on the proposal to provide federal money for roads, bridges, rails, water, and other physical infrastructure programs as well as funding expansion of broadband to rural areas of the nation. Just last week, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a similar infrastructure bill. 

Updating the nation’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure always promised to be the most likely part of President Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative plans to win bipartisan support. Everyone — on both sides of the political divide — believes the nation’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair, and fixing bridges and roads has wide public support. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who previously boasted that he was “100 percent” focused on torpedoing Biden’s agenda — voted to begin debate. 

McConnell and the rest of the GOP are in a tough spot on infrastructure. Passing the bill would, of course, give Biden a major victory, but, on the other hand, filibustering a very popular measure would give Democrats a significant campaign issue in 2022. No Republican up for reelection next year wants to have to explain to constituents why he or she voted against repairing a local crumbling bridge or pothole-filled road. 

But here is what is most interesting about the votes of a third of the Republican Senate conference: They were cast in defiance of the wishes of former president Donald Trump, who urged GOP members to wait until after the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans presumably would control Congress, before considering an infrastructure bill. It was something of a running joke that, as president, Trump repeatedly promised to have an “infrastructure week,” but no legislation was ever introduced. After Wednesday’s vote to allow debate on infrastructure, Trump lashed out at the minority leader: “Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose.” The former president particularly savaged Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney: “Hard to believe our Senate Republicans are dealing with the Radical Left Democrats in making a so-called bipartisan bill on ‘infrastructure,’ with our negotiators headed up by SUPER RINO [Republican in name only] Mitt Romney.” 

It is difficult to know if the sudden courage of Senate Republicans to challenge the party’s cult leader owes anything to the surprising results in the Texas special election to fill the post of Representative Ron Wright, who died in February. Trump backed Susan Wright, the former representative’s widow, but she lost by six points to Jake Ellzey, a member of the Texas state legislature, in a runoff between two Republicans after no one secured a majority in the first round of voting in May. It is, of course, possible that Democrats in the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth district voted for Ellzey to rebuff Trump, but regardless of the vote breakdown, the results are an embarrassment to the former president and bring into question the clout he wields among Republican voters. 

Trump’s influence among Republicans will be put to the test in next week’s primary in Ohio, where a number of Republicans are vying to replace former Representative Steve Stivers. Trump is backing Mike Carey, a former energy lobbyist running for the Columbus-area open seat. But, several Trump allies favor rivals. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is supporting Ron Hood in the primary, and Debbie Meadows, the wife of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is promoting Ruth Edmonds.

Trump world views these interventions as acts of disloyalty, though both Paul and Meadows say they simply are backing rival candidates. Paul claims he favors a fellow libertarian, while Meadows had endorsed Edmonds, who is Black, arguing she “will be a powerful voice in Congress countering the growing BLM/Marxist movement” and whose “life experiences” as a Christian “have uniquely prepared her to stand up against the race-baiting bullies of the radical Left.” Whatever the motives of Paul and Meadows, Trump allies say their apostasy “will be remembered.”

Republican baby steps toward acting like a normal political party could easily lead nowhere. The infrastructure bill has yet to be drafted and many in both political parties are not pleased with the scope of the bill and the manner in which it will be funded. Republicans may be up to their usual shenanigans, stringing along negotiations until the clock finally runs out with no deal at all. Progressive Democrats are not happy with the framework for the bipartisan deal, and they desperately want to get a much more expensive companion bill dealing with “human infrastructure,” such as combating climate change and expanding Medicare, passed as well. That bill would have to become law without any Republican votes, requiring several hesitant moderate Democratic senators to support it. 

Republican voters may choose the Trump-backed candidate in next week’s Ohio primary. A victory for Carey would reinforce the view that Trump is a kingmaker in Republican primaries, forcing Republicans to shy away from working with Democrats and discouraging any shows of independence from the emperor of Mar-a-Lago. Nothing scares a Republican running for reelection more than the possibility of a primary challenge from the right. 

Still, the infrastructure deal and the Texas election results give reason to hope that at least some Republicans are beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Not all, of course, as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and their ilk are still around. But, a healthy two-party system in which thoughtful political leaders can reach viable compromises is essential for the stability of the American body politic. For that reason alone, we should all applaud the recent developments. 

Posted July 30, 2021

Win More

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

What is most interesting about Governor Greg Abbott’s agenda for the special session of the Texas state legislature is not what it includes, but what it does not. There is no proposal to fix the state’s electric grid, which broke down during a storm this past winter with deadly results, leaving millions of Texans without power. The system also has been stressed during the current hot summer. But, instead of insuring that Texans have heat in cold weather and air conditioning in hot, Abbott and his fellow Republicans would rather legislate against the alleged teaching of critical race theory in schools and pass stringent voting restriction and nullification measures to guard against nonexistent electoral fraud.

Texas Republicans are not outliers when it comes to questions of public policy. Republicans everywhere are railing against critical race theory that is not taught anywhere, alleged censorship of conservatives on social media platforms, supposed cancel culture, and imagined electoral fraud while promulgating the “Big Lie” that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. What Republicans are not doing is proposing any measures that would improve the lives of Americans. 

The Republican strategy provides Democrats with both a problem and an opportunity. The problem for Democrats is that these cultural issues often resonate with voters, especially those in the electorate that comprise the Republican base. Cultural issues have particular import in mid-term and off-year elections when voter turnout tends to be lower than in presidential election years and when highly motivated voters — such as those susceptible to the “Big Lie” — are more likely to cast ballots. 

The opportunity for Democrats is that by pushing an agenda that improves the lives of all Americans — offering free or low-cost college education, curtailing child poverty, expanding Medicare and providing healthcare for more people, building new roads and bridges and fixing those in bad repair, and more — the party’s candidates might just swamp their opponents at the ballot box. But, not only do Democrats have to get most, if not all, of their agenda through a closely divided Congress, they then must convince the electorate that their policies are beneficial and Democrats must rally their supporters to go to the polls in massive numbers. In other words, Democrats must defeat Republicans by such awesome electoral numbers that Republican cheating — in the form of voter suppression and nullification laws — will not succeed. Of course, hypothetically, if Republicans are so brazen as to nullify massive Democratic majorities, then there is little Democrats can do. 

This strategy assumes that Democratic on-the-ground organizing will be sufficient to overcome Red-state chicanery. So far, President Joe Biden has benefited from a booming economy and his administration’s success in getting millions vaccinated. Further, the child tax credits contained in the stimulus bill are starting to be sent to eligible Americans, putting money in the pockets of people who need it. But, inflation looms as a potential problem. And, so far, Biden’s impressive policy achievements do not seem to be benefitting him politically. The president’s approval rating is relatively high, but it is stuck at virtually the same number as at the start of his term in January.

Biden and his team seem to have signed on to the strategy of what might be called “win more.” Biden’s reliance on it may explain his slowness in arguing vociferously for congressional passage of the comprehensive voting overhaul measure. Even when he came out strongly for the bill’s enactment in his speech in Philadelphia this week, Biden never called for eliminating the filibuster, a prerequisite to passage of new voting laws in Congress. There can be little question that Biden is genuinely distressed by Republican voter suppression measures, but it is also probably true that the president does not want to waste political capital on a fight — eliminating the filibuster — he cannot win.

The “win more” strategy is risky. The biggest gamble of all is the assumption that Biden will get most of his agenda through Congress. Perhaps, but Joe Biden cannot be Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Baines Johnson for one simple reason: The current president lacks his predecessors’ massive congressional majorities. In 1933, FDR had a 59-vote majority in the Senate and three-to-one edge in the House. LBJ was not quite as fortunate. But, still, the Senate in 1965 had 69 Democrats in it and the House 295. Biden is stuck with an evenly divided Senate and a minuscule Democratic majority in the House. Moreover, both FDR and LBJ had Republican allies, but in today’s highly polarized political environment, Republican cooperation is doubtful at best. 

Democrats know they have to out-organize Republicans to have a chance at political victory. That is a daunting task because the political fight between the two parties is uneven. The Supreme Court’s validation of two Arizona election laws encourages Republicans to be even more aggressive in enacting voter suppression laws in Red states. The recent decision provides Republican legislators with a road map for their Jim Crow-like legislation, and the high court’s ruling suggests that future litigation to stop similar Republican legislation will not succeed. 

The fact is that the system is stacked in favor of Republicans. The Electoral College gives Republicans a huge advantage in presidential elections in ways not readily apparent. Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, but two Republican “losers” became president by winning a majority of electoral votes. More importantly, Democrats win presidential popular votes by piling up massive majorities in California and New York. As Politico notes, Hillary Clinton’s three-million vote majority in 2016 came entirely from California, and Biden’s seven-million vote victory in 2020 from California and New York. These are mostly “wasted” votes that do not help Democrats win either the presidency or down ballot races. Another unfair element is the notoriously undemocratic Senate, where small, in population, Wyoming has the same number of votes in the upper chamber as population-rich California.  

As fraught as the “win more” strategy is, the Democrats may have little choice but to hope that it succeeds. Given the structural advantage Republicans possess and given Republican ruthlessness in manipulating the rules — from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s successful attempt to stack the courts with conservatives to the wave of new voter suppression laws — Democrats are left with few weapons other than traditional, popular appeals to pocketbook issues.

Democrats everywhere must emulate Stacey Abrams’ successful organizing to get out the vote and turn Georgia blue in the last election. It may be all that prevents further Republican assaults on constitutional norms and wholesale destruction of our Republic.

Posted July 16, 2021