As you probably know, the U.S. Senate reared up on its hind legs yesterday and passed a resolution demanding that the Bush administration cut out the happy talk, explain its exit strategy for Iraq, link troop withdrawals to specific benchmarks of progress towards Iraqi self-sufficiency, report regularly to Congress, and generally, stop B.S.-ing the American and the Iraqi people.The vote on that resolution was 79-19, with 41 Republican Senators going over the side.Even more remarkably, this resolution, drafted by Republican Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, was largely a carbon-copy of Sen. Carl Levin’s Democratic resolution, which went down 58-40 earlier in the day. The supposed Big Difference was Levin’s language urging the administration to come up with “estimated dates” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, contingent on everything going on as planned, etc., etc. Check out this colloquoy on the Senate floor between Levin and Warner, and tell me if you think it’s a Big Difference at all. Warner basically agrees Levin’s language doesn’t require any sort of fixed “timetable” or “deadline” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, but worries it might be misunderstood as such. We’re into angels-dancing-on-a-pin country here.But upon this parsing of really small words, the Bushies have staked their entire, and even for them, unusually mendacious, spin operation. The Senate rejected a “timetable,” they crow. The resolution endorsed our policies! If you read the Warner resolution, and understand what it means, that’s a completely crazy reading of what happened, which is that a large majority of Republican Senators suddenly but clearly repudiated the administration line on Iraq, for the very first time. The fact that the Senate also recently passed, for the second time, and this time on a voice vote, the McCain Amendment rejecting the Cheney Torture doctrine, which the White House has indicated is so important that it might generate Bush’s first-ever legislative veto, is another major straw in the wind.The Bushies aren’t the only people exaggerating the difference between the Levin and Warner resolutions on Iraq: some Democratic voices, whom I will not name out of collegiality, are fretting that the Republican defection to a “benchmarked withdrawal” position means our guys must get more rigid and fervent about a timetable and deadline for withdrawal to maintain the requisite partisan differentiation.Ironically, these are among the same folks who have been arguing for a while that the secret of the GOP Machine is its ability to maintain Republican unity while battening on Democratic disunity. On Iraq, we are currently witnessing massive Republican disunity and relatively clear Democratic unity. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture politically?More broadly, let’s look at what’s happening to Bush and to the Republican coalition. After the conservative uprising against Harriet Miers, the White House decided that it had to have “base” support in these troubled times. Hence, Bush substituted Alito for Miers; began supporting right-wing budget proposals in Congress; and most recently, went Nixonian on Iraq, attacking its critics as allies of al Qaeda.The jury’s still out on Alito, but the conservative budget offensive has been derailed by Republicans, and now the “stay the course” offensive on Iraq has been derailed by Republicans as well. Meanwhile, the ethics problems of the GOP and its friends are just beginning. The whole Rove/Neocon/Norquist/Theocrat/Plutocrat alliance that elected George W. Bush is in shambles. Republican office-holders are running for the hills, and for heretofore unimaginable cooperation with the hated partisan enemy.This is a very good thing for Democrats. And while partisan differentiation is always important, we shouldn’t be worried about that to the exclusion of taking every opportunity to let Republicans fall out like thieves, and re-establish ourselves clearly as the party that can best govern the country. I mean, really, if the 2006 elections turn into a referendum on which candidates can most thorougly separate themselves from George W. Bush’s policies, does anyone really doubt the Donkey will prevail? I sure don’t. Let the Republicans fight, and let’s don’t go out of our way to take positions that make it easier for them to pretend they are united.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:
There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:
“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”
Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.
Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.
Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.
At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.
Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.