Biden’s hypocritical new stance on filibuster

Biden, who has opposed changing the Senate filibuster rule, is now calling for a “carveout” to pass federal abortion rights (see story here). But he still hasn’t endorsed carveouts for anything else, beyond the existing exceptions for spending bills and judicial nominees.

Look, abortion rights aren’t higher priority than voting rights. Without voting rights, you have no rights an oppressive minority can’t take away after hijacking the election process. Preventing that hijacking has got to be our top priority.

That isn’t just a theoretical possibility. The court today accepted a case for next term that threatens to strip both federal and state courts of any power to intervene against unrepresentative, undemocratically elected, gerrymandered legislatures that don’t represent the people of their states which are hardly threatening to overrule their citizens’ votes for president by choosing electors themselves (see story here).

The ruling that potentially could flow from this, from a dishonest and gerrymandered Supreme Court that’s already drastically out of sync with popular will, poses an existential threat to our freedom to choose our government and the laws we live under. If Biden’s now ready to question the filibuster status quo, he should be taking the larger and longer view, not a short-sighted one that doesn’t look past the next election.

Biden has repeatedly demonstrated he’s motivated more by political expediency than grand principal or practical governing. For example, his proposed gas tax holiday is nothing but feel-good window-dressing. And catering to the powerful pro-abortion lobby in his party is more of the same.

I’m for women’s right to control their bodies. Practically and scientifically, there’s no way a few-days-old fertilized egg is a human being. When an embryo becomes a recognizable human being deserving of legal protection is an extremely complex intellectual problem the 1973 Roe v. Wade court struggled with intensely, ultimately concluding there’s no clear or good answer, and any line drawn is bound to be an arbitrary one.

However, this court didn’t even make the effort; the lines it draws can’t even be fairly described as “arbitrary”; they’re ideological and partisan. This is the most blatantly political court, blatantly and arbitrarily flexing political muscle, of any Supreme Court in living memory. And their decision overturning Roe v. Wade created an incredible legal mess that will years and huge resources to sort out.

But we can live with the abortion mess if we have to. We can’t live under the dictatorship of a minority that mouths empty words about “freedom” but by its actions demonstrates, over and over, their determination to dictate every aspect of our lives.

I understand Biden’s, Manchin’s, and Sinema’s reluctance to abolish the filibuster. They think it protects us if the Republicans again get simultaneous control of the White House and both houses of Congress. The problem with that thinking is it doesn’t. Does anyone seriously believe that Republicans who backed the attempted violent overthrow of a presidential election, and are now seeking to destroy democracy in state legislatures, won’t brush aside the filibuster the moment it impedes them from achieving their goals?

The only question is who’s going to change it. I’m arguing we’d better do it first, to preserve our democratic freedoms while we still can.

Maintaining the filibuster can’t be justified on any logical basis. A common argument is it protects the minority from majority overreach. But red states already have a minority veto; as a Vox article published just after the 2020 election pointed out (read it here), the 50 Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican senators. And it’s been estimated that by 2040, 70% of the Senate will represent just 30% of America’s population (see story here).

So Republicans already have a veto over legislation without the filibuster, without having to win over anywhere near a majority of voters. Why do they need another supermajority requirement to pass legislation on top of the one they already have?

Moreover, for most of the years the current filibuster has been in effect, we’ve had divided government where one party doesn’t control both the presidency and Congress at the same time, and the parties worked together to hash out compromises. But those cooperative politics are gone. First came a GOP posture of “our way, or the highway,” then “our way, or no way.”

It might be different if Republicans still believed in the democratic principles underlying our system of government, but that don’t. It has become abundantly clear they’re not only hostile to democracy, but are out to destroy it in our country. “Our way, or no way” is now even spilling over into elections, where if they lose, they refuse to accept the results and demand to get the office anyway.

America is drifting toward fascist dictatorship, and the filibuster is one of the instruments facilitating it.

While I believe a Republican Senate majority won’t hesitate to sweep aside the filibuster at their earliest convenience, the Democrats don’t have to go all-or-nothing with the filibuster at this point. It can be kept, and the onus of abolishing it put on the Republicans, by keeping it in place but sparingly adding exceptions, with top priority given to securing our democracy.

I would prioritize exceptions to the filibuster rule this way: Voting rights, general civil rights, and remedial action on the Supreme Court if it abandons judicial principles and becomes a dictatorial political body. There are other areas where it would be nice to overcome Republican obstructionism, but in my view these are the most essential ones, on which everything else depends.

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