• 73°

Steven V. Roberts: Voting rights is job one

As Texas Republicans tried to ram a bill through the state legislature that would severely restrict the rights of nonwhite voters, Democratic lawmakers came up with a creative and courageous plan. They simply walked out, denying the Republicans a quorum and preventing them from passing their reprehensible measure before the legislative session ended.

Their victory might be temporary, since the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, vows to renew the fight later this summer. But Texas marks a major moment in the Democrats’ counterattack against the Republican campaign in legislatures across the country to throttle the power of minorities — who backed Joe Biden by a margin of 71 to 26 over Donald Trump last November.

As Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer declared after the legislators decamped, “We knew today, with the eyes of the nation watching action in Austin, that we needed to send a message. And that message is very, very clear: Mr. President, we need a national response to federal voting rights.”

That message might be clear, but the strategy for implementing it is not. As The New York Times reports, Democrats on Capitol Hill are “faltering” in their efforts to pass legislation that would set federal election standards and block the sort of nefarious proposals advanced in Texas and many other states.

So how can the Democrats deliver what Martinez Fischer is pleading for? The odds are stacked against them, but one precarious path seems possible. It would involve party leaders standing up to their left-wing purists, accepting a compromise and staying focused on what should be their top priority: thwarting the Republican assault on democracy.

If they fail, Democrats will pay a huge price — probably losing the House and the Senate next year, and creating the conditions for a constitutional crisis in 2024 if the presidential election is at all close, especially if Trump is the GOP nominee.

The For the People Act, which has passed the House and awaits Senate action, would effectively block the worst restrictions adopted by Republican legislatures. Since it will certainly be filibustered, however, the only way it can pass is if Democrats amend or eliminate the filibuster rule. But Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has repeatedly rejected changes to the filibuster, and without his vote, nothing will happen.

So the critical question becomes: Are there any circumstances under which Manchin can be induced to alter his view?

Democrats need to take two steps. The first is to cut back the For the People Act, which weighs in at 800 pages and contains a long liberal wish list, from financing campaigns with public money to curbing the gerrymandering of congressional districts. They’re good ideas, but not essential this year, and Manchin is far more likely to support a bill squarely centered on voting rights.

The liberals would scream “sellout,” but the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. That adage also applies to the second step: changing the filibuster rule. But how, exactly? Liberals, again, want the whole loaf: to kill the procedure entirely. But since Manchin is never going to accept a complete elimination of the filibuster, the only realistic option is a carve-out — an exception for legislation that preserves and protects voting rights.

Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama put it well: “If the vote and protecting the rights of all Americans to exercise that most precious right isn’t worth overcoming a procedural filibuster, then what is?”

There’s a third variable in this complex equation: the ongoing negotiations over an infrastructure bill. The Republicans have offered about $1 trillion, and Biden has come down from about $2.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion. And while the liberals are again denouncing the president’s impulse to find a compromise, many smart Democrats think Biden should take the Republican offer, tout his success as a negotiator, and use the deal to woo Manchin on voting rights.

As David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s chief political adviser, told Ron Brownstein of CNN: “That would be important for Manchin, because then he can point to it and say, ‘We did find common ground.’ … If you get this infrastructure deal, you may then be able to get Manchin to vote for a carve-out on issues that relate to issues on voting and elections.”

That should be the Democrats’ overriding goal: to enact a national response to the Republican assault on voting rights. Almost any compromise that makes that possible is worth it — no matter how loudly the liberals complain.

 

Steven Roberts teaches  at George Washington University. Email him at
stevecokie@gmail.com.

Comments

Local

Salisbury will make history with installation of marker commemorating 1906 lynchings

Local

More than 100 years later, family of World War I veteran receives medals, honors on his behalf

Local

Commissioners to schedule public hearing for Reaper’s Realm rezoning application

Coronavirus

COVID-19 deaths in county grow to 316 as Delta variant spreads

Local

David Freeze: More than expected from western heat

Business

Opening of State Employees’ Credit Union is the fulfillment of a vision for Mary Ponds, Granite Quarry

Local

Swimming: Salisbury native DeSorbo coaching in Olympics

Local

‘Mr. Robert’ retires after 24 years serving children

Lifestyle

Library’s summer reading clock winding down

College

Catawba athletics: Busy fall planned

Local

Community Care Clinic receives grant that will improve its diagnostic capabilities

Business

Biz Roundup: Chamber unveils theme for Total Resource Campaign

Elections

Candidates for local, state races talk with voters at Sloan Park

Education

Summer institute teachers receive $5,000 stipends, eligible for more bonuses

Nation/World

Mask guidance divides parents heading into new school year

Nation/World

Frustration as Biden, Congress allow eviction ban to expire

Crime

Salisbury Police charge 33 during narcotics roundup

Local

Crews respond to fire at Rowan County Landfill

Nation/World

$1 trillion infrastructure plan clears Senate hurdle

College

College-bound North Carolina football player shot to death

Legion baseball

American Legion baseball: Rowan bounces back behind Schenck, reaches semifinals today

Education

Johnson C. Smith, Pfeiffer universities among latest to pay off student debts

Kannapolis

American Legion baseball: Kannapolis ends season

Business

Evictions looming as Congress refuses to extend ban that expires today