You might well share my surprise today in learning that the Senate immigration reform “compromise” announced yesterday afternoon had fallen apart by this morning. I followed this pretty obsessively over the last few weeks, and after watching Frist, Specter, McCain, Reid, Leahy and Kennedy high-five each other over the “deal” at a press conference yesterday, I pounded out a New Dem Dispatch praising the compromise as a “one sane step” towards immigration reform, while warning that the Troglodyte House GOP position on the subject might well make the whole thing meaningless.Turns out that Frist, who reportedly told Harry Reid he could definitely corral a majority of Senate Republicans into voting for the compromise, was talking through his hat, or worse. Republicans insisted on the right to provide for votes on a vast menu of Troglodyte amendents to the “deal,” and Reid quite appropriately said “Hell, no.” A deal subject to unlimited amendments is no deal at all. And so, the motion to move to a vote on the compromise went down hard.So basically, here’s what happened this week: Senate Republicans killed a bipartisan proposal reported by the Judiciary Committee they controlled. Senate Republicans then unveiled a face-saving compromise, got Dems on board, and then proved they couldn’t muster support for their own proposal. Now, incredibly, they’re pretending Democrats are at fault for sticking to the compromise and not agreeing to let it get unraveled through hundreds of amendments on the Senate floor. And let’s not forget that throughout this fiasco the President of the United States, who supported both the Judiciary Committee bill and the discarded compromise, sat on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to sway his partisan troops.It’s increasingly, abundantly clear that Washington’s paralysis on the immigration issue is an intramural Republican problem more than anything else. It would be very helpful if the news media, which typically described today’s developments as some sort of bipartisan breakdown, would figure out the GOP’s singular responsibility for this mess, and report it accordingly.
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.