Congressional Democrats’ top priority for the 117th Congress: seizing most election management from state governments. The first bill introduced in the House and Senate was the “For the People Act,” a measure I discussed a few days after launching this newsletter. I’ve returned to it often since then — not only at Deregulator.
Two months after H.R.1 passed the House with no Republican votes, the bill’s Senate companion S.1 is stuck. It’s as dead in the water as the Ever Given was in the Suez Canal. And there aren’t enough senators (Republican or Democrat) willing to change sides and let this barge float. (Tortured metaphor over.)
Politico reported this morning that Democratic backers of S.1 aren’t sure what to do.
What’s at stake is not only the party’s promise on a key issue, but also potentially the future Democratic majorities. Many in the party privately worry that frontline Democrats, like [Georgia freshman Sen. Raphael] Warnock or House Democrats vulnerable to redistricting, could lose their seats if Congress doesn’t send a federal election and ethics bill to President Joe Biden’s desk by this summer.
Last month, The Atlantic’s David Graham (who lives in the Triangle, BTW) agreed with former Democracy N.C. chief Bob Hall and me on the biggest procedural problem with H.R.1/S.1: It’s unfocused and too damn big. Citing Vox, Graham noted that this piece of legislation combined some 60 separate election-related bills Democrats failed to move during the Trump presidency.
Hall and I support some parts of the bill — he likes more of it than I do. He’d likely break out sections he thinks Congress should handle, leaving the rest to state legislatures, where they could craft fixes addressing unique local concerns. I’d leave all of it up to states — excluding the parts that appear to be unconstitutional even if the General Assembly passed them!
H.R.1/S.1 has many parts indeed. It covers ethics, voting access, gerrymandering, campaign finance, and ballot security. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, the most powerful man in Washington, opposes S.1. He’s told fellow Democrats he’d back a bill focused on voting rights and election integrity, Politico reported. A narrower bill might get enough Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
Manchin’s the key. Not only does he oppose S.1 unamended; he also remains uninterested in scrapping the filibuster, even for bills he supports. He wants GOP buy-in for controversial legislation.
Meantime, Republican senators have vowed to offer amendments out the wazoo. They’ll delay the bill’s potential passage. Any amendments they get through should improve the bill and peel away some reluctant Democrats.
This outcome won’t sit well with leftists. Again, from Politico:
“No amount of reconciliation success will excuse Democrats’ failure on this front and they will go down in history as the ‘peace in our time’ party of appeasers in an era of rising racist fascism,” said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, a progressive group.
That’s the way to build coalitions!
Barring some breakthrough, the For the People Act won’t reach Biden any time soon, causing another headache for its backers, who insist that the law must be on the books before the 2022 elections.
Making progressive-led changes state-by-state poses different problems. First, Republicans control most U.S. statehouses. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports Republicans control 30 legislatures, Democrats 18. One state has split control, and Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is putatively nonpartisan.
Legislative sessions also are ending soon, if they haven’t already. Again, from NCSL, 31 state legislatures will have ended their 2021 sessions by June 1. Several others are set to adjourn by the end of July; only a handful are open year-round.
To be sure, every state will convene a special legislative session to deal with redistricting and reapportionment, perhaps this fall. Whether such a session could consider election changes or other business depends on each state’s laws and constitution.
Many legislatures making changes will wind up in court. The legal team of Democratic super-lawyer Marc Elias will make sure no lawsuit’s left behind.
I’ll keep an eye on S.1’s progress, but for now, the action seems to be gelling around the John Lewis Voting Rights Act … which still hasn’t been introduced this congressional session.
Ain’t federalism grand?
Link Wray, native of Dunn, N.C., would have turned 92 Sunday. Perhaps the most revolutionary guitarist since Charlie Christian (check him out, too), Link Wray held the distinction of recording “Rumble,” the only instrumental song to be banned from radio in some U.S. cities for fear of instigating gang violence. You’ve heard the riff a million times, especially if you’re a “Pulp Fiction” fan, but you may not have known who was behind it.
During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Link backed up rockabilly crooner Robert Gordon, whose 1978 “Fresh Fish Special” LP, with the Jordanaires handling the harmonies, holds up today. (More trivia about this album: Bruce Springsteen “gave” Gordon his song “Fire,” which Bruce had hoped Elvis Presley would record. Elvis didn’t hang around long enough to oblige. The Boss played piano on Gordon’s studio track. The Pointer Sisters had a hit with the song later.)
Link Wray is NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go figure.
Let’s enjoy Gordon and Wray paying homage to the King back in the day.