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ODems Cannot Allow Republicans to Cancel Black Votes, as a Matter of Conscience and Survival

Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh, a leader in advancing voter suppression bills in the state admits the Republican credo: “everybody shouldn't be voting."

"Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they're totally uninformed on the issues," Kavanagh said. "Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well."

In Arizona, Kavanagh is likely referring to Brown and Black citizens who are guaranteed the right to vote under the 15th and 24th Amendments.

As I noted in a March 15 BuzzFlash Editor’s Commentary, the federal government did not intervene as Southern states denied most Blacks the right to vote between 1877 and August, 1965 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with histories of racial voting discrimination to receive Department of Justice approval before changing their voting laws. A new round of voter suppression, particularly aimed at Black voters was unleashed once again, along with the preexisting voter-limiting laws such as released felon voting restrictions, purging and caging in some states.

Exacerbating the return to treating Black voters as ghosts, Trump successfully utilized “The Big Lie” to create mass delusion that he lost because of insufficient voter suppression laws and allegations of machine irregularities and straight out cheating. No court in the land, including the Supreme Court agreed with his attorneys, but even with his departure from the White House, “The Big Lie” lives on as an excuse to further exclude Blacks and others from voting by creating as many obstacles as possible to casting a ballot — all of this nefarious action based on mass delusion.

The Democrats own an abiding debt to Blacks, who have been steadfast supporters of the party in its modern incarnation, to guarantee their voting rights, instead of standing by as the Republicans steamroll voter exclusion that had its origin in the original sin of slavery.

The future of democracy depends on the passage of HR 1, The For the People Act, and HR 4, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act , in the Senate. (HR 1 passed in the House last week.) If the Dems don't protect the Black vote, if they don't pass these two bills, the Republicans will be in power for decades. Their return to majority status in the Senate and possibly in the House, given the explosion of voter suppression laws, will allow the GOP to mercilessly ensure minority white Christian rule for perhaps decades.

If Dems want to transform US government in the style of FDR, they will have to eliminate the tsunami of stolen elections (due to keeping voters from the polls through Jim Crow restrictions). That will mean they will have to eliminate or modify the filibuster in some form to pass these two bills, vital to a robust and empathetic democracy, by a vote of 51 in the Senate. (The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to repair the harm done by the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision will be passed by the House in the near future.)

Mitch McConnell’s tantrum this week that if the Democrats ended the filibuster, he would pursue a scorched-earth policy and turn the Senate into a 100-car-pileup is a good sign. The Biden Administration absolutely blindsided the GOP on the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. The Republicans being unused to Democrats exercising a muscular, confident and uncompromising strategy appeared shellshocked that The American Rescue Plan moved so quickly to passage without a single Republican vote — and with 70% support from the US public. That the Democrats didn’t hesitate as they forged ahead with a passage of the bill through Reconciliation left Republican leaders feeling whiplash.

Assistant Majority Leader Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) was the trigger for McConnell’s “rue the day” outburst, when Durbin said on a Sunday talk show he was now for eliminating the filibuster. His reaction to McConnell’s threats was quite simple: McConnell, Durbin responded, has already pursued a “scorched-earth” policy whenever he has been the majority leader.

It is true that the filibuster poses a challenge for two reasons: 1) Not all Democratic Senators want to remove it (and Biden wants a reversion to a talking filibuster instead of a 60-vote cloture); and 2) the one point that McConnell is correct on is that a filibuster removal could come back to haunt the Dems if they lose control of the Senate, which is certainly possible given the extent of the voter suppression the Republicans are enacting into law in red states.

There are actually four filibuster options:

  • Leave it in place.
  • Leave it in place but remove the 60-vote cloture option (which shelves the bill and allows the Senate to consider other bills if 60 votes are not reached to cut off debate) and require an actual “standing, orating, read out loud” filibuster, as portrayed in the iconic film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Under this scenario, no other Senate business can be conducted until the “standing filibuster” ends.
  • Only make Senate rule exceptions for bills that fall into a specific category, such as the 2 right to vote bills. In this scenario, the Dems and Vice President Kamala Harris as the 51st vote would claw out an exception to the filibuster for bills that address a specific issue. This is possible under Senate rules because the filibuster is not in the Constitution. It is a Senate procedure that can be circumvented by a simple majority vote that creates an exception. This is how McConnell bypassed the filibuster to confirm all three Trump nominees to the Supreme Court.
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  • Eliminate the filibuster.

If the Dems don't protect the Black vote, if they don't pass these two bills, the Republicans will be in power for decades.

Yes, there is a Joe Manchin problem and a Kyrsten Sinema problem in that they officially oppose complete elimination of the filibuster. However, Mansion, like Biden, is open to requiring a “talking filibuster,” and might, as is also the case with Sinema, be persuaded to keeping the filibuster, but removing it for the consideration of some specific bills, such as HR 1 and HR 4.

The Democrats have no choice but to proceed with options 3 or 4. As we saw how the attempted coup by Trump on January 6 came perilously close to stopping the Electoral College vote count and certification of the Presidential and Vice Presidential winners, our experiment in rule by the people is hanging by a thread.

Yes, the Democrats are taking a risk with filibuster options 3 and 4 that McConnell, if he becomes majority leader in 2023, could use the evasion of the filibuster to decimate Democratic programs, pass huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and pass “red meat” cultural issues. However, he’s going to do that anyway, given the chance.

But there is no choice. If the Democrats don’t stop the hundreds of voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter enrollment hurdles and other efforts by Republicans to steal the 2022 election, we will morph into a one-party authoritarian minority white supremacist government, with someone like Josh Hawley perhaps becoming president in 2024. Either the Democrats take the risk of taking on the filibuster immediately, or de facto the tsunami of voter purges, mail-in ballot restricions, notarization requirements, reduction of early voting days, etc. will mean the Democrats will likely lose power in both houses of Congress in 2022.

It’s not a choice; it’s a necessity, with democracy hanging in the balance.

And then there is the debt written in the vile and bloody original sin of slavery, which was unforgivably compromised by the North to join with the South to create this nation. My colleague Greg Palast has pointed out to me many a time that sometimes the Democratic Party has been missing in action when it comes to protecting the voting rights of Blacks in oppressive states in advance of an election (take for instance purging), although there is always a surge of interest once the voting is being counted.

Blacks are the bedrock and the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. Stacey Abrams has shown that the Democrats as a Party have been derelict in creating grassroots networks of Black voters, and we owe her for her tenacious determination that resulted in the Democrats winning the Senate and Joe Biden winning the state of Georgia.

Blacks have paid their dues in blood, perseverance and faith, amidst the legacy of racism in our society.

Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.”

The vote represents enormous significance to most Blacks. It is the inviolate symbol of their full citizenship in a society that they came to in chains as chattel.

Martin Luther King, Jr., noted of the harrowing journey from slavery to a citizenship that Republicans are still trying to deny, to “cancel”: ““Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.”

Biden has shown that the Democrats have developed a backbone and the beginnings of a transformative vision. It cannot stop with one historically innovative bill that recognizes the needs of the people to whom GOP tax cuts have never trickled down.

Democrats must defend the Black vote at this inflection point because it is a sacred debt and because democracy depends upon it.


Clarification: The $1.9 trillion COVID relief act was passed using the budget reconciliation process, which occurs once a year and only requires 51 votes for passage. This year, because there was not a budget reconciliation vote last year, the Dems will have one more opportunity to use the budget reconciliation filibuster bypass. In all likelihood, it will be saved for a massive infrastructure bill later this year.

Mark Karlin