Flipping the Senate!
September 27, 2022
Developments in the Senate this week serve as a reminder of the difficulties that President Biden surmounted in achieving the most impressive legislative record in decades. And they serve as a stark reminder to Democrats of what is at stake in expanding Democratic control of the Senate in 2022. As usual, Senators Sinema and Manchin are in the middle of the high drama—correction: the low drama—that is gripping the Senate once again.
Senator Sinema is currently on a “roadshow” with her new best friend, Mitch McConnell, who is praising Sinema as the “most effective first-term senator” he has encountered in a generation. Of course, what McConnell meant is that Sinema was the Democrat who was most willing to abandon her constituents to protect big-money interests that fund the GOP.
McConnell’s praise should warm Sinema’s heart—until he stabs her in the back, as he will inevitably do. (I am speaking metaphorically, mostly.) Senator Manchin just learned the hard way that finding common cause with Mitch McConnell is a one-way street—he gets what he wants and you get the shaft. More on that in a moment.
In a speech at the McConnell Center, Sinema said that she was in favor of expanding the filibuster to cover judicial nominations and administrative appointments. See Talking Points Memo, Sinema Doesn’t Just Love The Filibuster. She Wants To Strengthen It. Sinema said,
I actually think we should restore the 60-vote threshold for the areas in which it has been eliminated already. We should restore it. It would make it harder for us to confirm judges. And it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration [and would create] more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance.
Sinema ignores the fact that the GOP has absolutely no interest in finding a “middle ground” on anything. If it did, at least some members of the GOP caucus in Congress would have supported voter protection legislation, would have voted to convict Donald Trump for extorting Ukraine, and would have supported legislation to fight the climate crisis, expand drug coverage, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. They would not have tolerated the refusal to hold a vote on Merrick Garland and would have refused to vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett ten days before a presidential election.
No, Senator Sinema, the filibuster works only if two parties share the goal of governing for the common good. But when one party is intent on undermining democracy and converting government service into profit-maximizing opportunities, the filibuster is an antidemocratic tool of obscene proportions. While Senator Sinema may be basking in the eerie glow from McConnell’s pallid skin for the moment, she need only look to Senator Manchin to see the future of her relationship with McConnell.
Manchin worked with McConnell and the GOP caucus on many occasions over the last year to blunt the full scope of Biden’s agenda. McConnell is repaying Manchin’s “bipartisanship” by cutting Manchin off at the knees as he proposes to “fast-track” permitting for fossil fuel projects. Republicans are lining up against a bill that they would otherwise fall all over themselves to support.
Why? Because Manchin supported the Inflation Reduction Act after Republicans believed that the bill had died in the Senate. Of course, that is not what Republicans are saying about their opposition. Instead, they claim that Manchin left them out of negotiations over a dream bill for GOP big-money patrons. Manchin wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal refuting the GOP’s false talking points, saying,
Some have said the legislation was crafted without Republican input or that it would make it harder for fossil fuels to be permitted. They are simply wrong. They aren't being honest about what's in the bill and how it came to be.
Senator Manchin is bewildered, saying, “You can be a hero one day and a villain the next.” Another way of saying the same thing is, “Do it McConnell’s way or you are dead to the GOP.” That mercenary attitude has enforced unyielding party discipline but has also led the GOP over a moral precipice as it mindlessly supports the greatest criminal ever to occupy the presidency.
Manchin’s effort to fast-track permitting for fossil fuel projects is tied to the continuing resolution to fund government operations—which must be passed by this Friday. See Business Insider, Manchin's Push for Fossil Fuel Bill Might Mean a Government Shutdown. Since Democrats want to keep the government running, they will likely dump Manchin’s bill. They have no choice, and Manchin has no reservoir of goodwill in the Democratic caucus.
Let’s hope that the continuing resolution is passed on Friday. The last thing the nation needs now is a government shutdown. Democrats need to fix the Senate by securing a larger majority.
Join me for a discussion with Democratic candidates Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman.
Please join me as I moderate a Zoom fundraiser for John Fetterman and Mandela Barnes on Monday, October 3rd at 8:30pm Eastern /5:30pm Pacific. The races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are two of our top chances to flip Senate seats. If we win these seats (and successfully defend others), we can abolish the filibuster, codify Roe, eliminate gerrymandering, and expand voting rights. In essence, by flipping the Senate, we have the chance to redeem the promise of American democracy by making it more representative, inclusive, and respectful of human dignity and liberty.
But beyond flipping the Senate, Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman are inspiring young leaders who will bring new voters to the polls. That will help Democrats in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania win down-ballot races and lay a foundation for critical Electoral College votes in 2024.
To be clear, this is a fundraiser. I sometimes receive critical notes from readers when I participate in events that are designed to raise money for candidates and causes. I regularly speak at events hosted by grassroots organizations that are not fundraisers to help spread the message of hope and optimism embodied in this newsletter. But the hard truth is that Republicans are pulling out all the stops in their efforts to defeat Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman. We must do the same to the extent that we are able. If you can, donate generously. But if you can’t, please know that every effort by every volunteer is critically important and deeply appreciated by Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
The link to donate and attend is here: Meet Mandela Barnes & John Fetterman & Truly Flip the US Senate. Even if you can’t attend, please consider making a contribution to help Mandela and John flip the Senate!
Note: If you would like me to pose a question to the candidates on your behalf, please send questions David Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org by end of day Thursday.
The election in Italy.
The apparent victory of a far-right coalition in Italy that includes fascist roots has provoked anxiety across Europe and the US. Some commentators are leaping to the conclusion that “If it happened in Italy, it could happen in the US.” That logic is overly simplistic but communicates a core truth: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
I am not an expert on politics in Italy (or anywhere else, for that matter), but it is clear that the Italian electorate is exhausted by a revolving door of failed governments over the last decade. That exhaustion led to a historically low turnout that permitted a neo-fascist party to claim “victory” by securing 26% of the vote. See Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic, Giorgia Meloni’s Election Win Is Not a Vote for Fascism.
As Mounk explains in The Atlantic, a series of government collapses led to a “technocratic government of national unity” in 2021 that left only one major party in opposition—the Brothers of Italy, headed by Giorgia Meloni. When the national unity government likewise collapsed, the obvious successor (by process of elimination) was the only major party in opposition to the national unity government. But as Mounk writes,
This suggests that Meloni’s victory on Sunday has less to do with nostalgia for Italy’s fascist past than with anger at the country’s parlous present. But by the same token, Meloni’s popularity may soon wane after she takes on the responsibility of governing.
Whether Italy’s apparent lurch to the right is meaningful and permanent remains to be seen. Still, the development has some lessons for those who oppose MAGAism in the US. As explained by Jacob Finkel in Slate, “the story isn’t just about Giorgia Meloni’s success, but Silvio Berlusconi’s decline.” The wannabe dictator Berlusconi was Trump before Trump was Trump. (“The comparisons to Donald Trump write themselves.”)
As Berlusconi’s personal power has declined, his authoritarian brand was co-opted by a younger, slicker generation. Finkel writes,
The election’s big winner, Giorgia Meloni, presents herself as a more focused alternative following decades of the aging [Berlusconi’s] political contortions. The 45-year-old Meloni has repackaged Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) from its origins as a successor to Mussolini’s National Fascist Party into a seemingly more traditional, and therefore more palatable, right-wing movement. She has retained the Fascist watchwords, Dio, patria, famiglia (God, fatherland, family), while condemning the movement’s anti-democratic and anti-Semitic past.
To translate the above dynamic from Italian into English, Meloni’s election is analogous to “Trumpism without Trump.” See Slate, Italy’s Election: What it tells us about post-Trump Republicans. To make his point, Finkel writes as follows:
As Meloni did to Berlusconi, extremist candidates here are already seizing the MAGA mantle for themselves, including Pennsylvania Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, who announced, “MAGA does not belong to President Trump. … It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.
As we know, there are younger, smarter, slicker candidates waiting to pick up Trump’s cudgel when he finally fails. Joe Biden is right to attack MAGA extremists (not merely Donald Trump) as a threat to democracy. The lesson of Italy’s election is that we are engaged in an ongoing struggle to preserve democracy. The question is not, “When will we prevail?”, but rather, “Will we maintain democracy for the next generation?”
Ours cannot be the generation that falters, no matter how exhausting or dispiriting the struggle may be at times. Oh, and turnout matters. Just ask Italians who are shocked to find after an election with a record-low turnout that neo-fascists will be leading a new government this week.
Eugene Robinson’s comment on GOP Commitment to America.
Yesterday, I attempted to convey the hollowness and cynicism of the GOP’s “Commitment to America.” Today, Eugene Robinson delivered the definitive description of the “Commitment.” See Opinion | Forget McCarthy's Commitment to America. The GOP agenda is revenge. Robinson writes,
Pay no attention to the House Republicans’ substance-free “Commitment to America.” The actual GOP plan, if the party takes control of the lower chamber in January, is a campaign of performative revenge.
“Performative revenge.” Mark those words. We can have a government dedicated to advancing the interests of all Americans or a government dedicated to performative revenge. The choice is ours.
To readers in Florida threatened by Hurricane Ian, please be safe! Follow government directions regarding evacuations. It is better to engage in an unnecessary evacuation than to be isolated from emergency services by storm surges and lack of power.
International events can make us uneasy about domestic politics in the US. It is right to take cautionary lessons from the rightward drift in other countries. But we should also recognize that a consistent theme in international events is that governments that lack the consent of the governed are inherently unstable and doomed to fail. At the moment, America still operates with the consent of the governed—however imperfect and messy our system of governing may be.
Rather than bemoaning its imperfections, we should recognize that it is a distinguishing characteristic of a free people and do all we can to protect, preserve, and improve it. That is the lesson of Italy, Russia, Iran, Hungary, Venezuela and more. However difficult it may be to preserve the consent of the governed, it is immensely more difficult and costly to reclaim it once lost. Let’s not let that happen. All we need to do is to vote like our democracy depends on it.
Talk to you tomorrow!