May 21, 2021 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Nearly everyone missed Chuck Schumer implying this week that the filibuster’s death is coming
The conventional wisdom is coming around to the Democrats' side.
The Editorial Board, as I hope you have noticed, is not in the business of making arguments for the sake of argumentation. It does not invest time in fights over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (The Editorial Board, for this reason, will never see The Big Money. It’s too shrewd.) It works hard to read politics critically and come to concrete conclusions for the sake of normal people and the common good.
There’s a reason I say this. Sometimes the Editorial Board is ahead of the conventional wisdom in Washington such that when the conventional wisdom in Washington eventually catches up, there’s a feeling of whiplash. Before this past week, I’d been arguing for a year or so that the nightmare will not be over after Donald Trump’s presidency comes to an end. (There are reasons aplenty, but primarily no matter the crime, obscenity or moral outrage, about 40 percent of the electorate approved of Trump during his term.) Then this week, the conventional wisdom in Washington appeared to awaken to oh my God the nightmare isn’t over how could this happen! I scrambled for a day to find out what I missed. Turns out I didn’t miss anything.
I think it comes down to this. Are the Republicans going to act less fascist than they have been acting since January 6?
Something triggered the prevailing discourse, though. I’m not sure what. Perhaps it was the Republicans in the United States House of Representatives knocking Wyoming Congressman Liz Cheney from the leadership. Perhaps it was the Republicans at the state level passing laws to suppress voting. Perhaps it was the Republicans in both chambers of the Congress opposing a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 sacking and looting of the United States Capitol. Perhaps it was the GOP doing the most unbecoming thing of all in Washington: sticking with the loser. Whatever the reason, this week’s punditry seems to finally recognize the nightmare for what it is.
Here’s Paul Waldman, a columnist at the Post: “Because his party has so aggressively worked to twist and corrupt the US electoral system, [Donald Trump] could clearly lose both the popular and electoral votes and still become president again.” Here’s Perry Bacon Jr., also a columnist at the Post: “Presented with a clear chance to move on from Trumpism after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the GOP has instead continued its drift toward anti-democratic action and white grievance. The future looks scary.”
This part, from Bacon, is the scariest to me: “If Republicans win the governorships of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin next year, taking total control in those key swing states, they could impose all kinds of electoral barriers for the next presidential election. The Republicans are laying the groundwork to refuse to certify a 2024 Democratic presidential victory should the GOP hold a House majority.”
There are many examples of the conventional wisdom in Washington getting triggered now for some reason instead of, I dunno, after an attempted coup d’etat. All of them, however, focus on the United States Senate, especially Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, who is key to passing a major democracy reform bill, the one thing that will do the most to prevent the country from sliding into autocracy. I wrote about Manchin Tuesday. I suggested there’s hope for passage. But even as I was writing the piece, something was happening to give us even more hope. The fact that nearly everyone missed it seems to illustrate the conventional wisdom’s myopia.
And when I say nearly everyone missed it, I mean nearly everyone missed it. The only two people to report on what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday were Ryan Grim and Sara Sirota from The Intercept, and since I don’t trust anything from The Intercept, I tracked down what Schumer said myself, and whaddayaknow? Schumer said what he’s been saying for months, which is the filibuster is not going to get in the way of democracy, because democracy is too important. Here’s the quote1:
The letter that Senators Murkowski and Manchin talked about, which was the Voting Rights Act, is actually authorized through 2032. So, their letter to us saying authorize it, well, it’s pretty much done for—we’ll all be in the Senate here in 2032, and I think we look forward to voting on it. Look, the bottom line, as I said, S.1 is very, very important to our democracy. You cannot let millions of people’s rights be taken away. Senator [Gary] Peters [of Michigan] gave a little presentation also on how it would affect elections in key states and how it would have changed things dramatically. One of the things that stuck out in my mind was that … in Wisconsin, the vote in the House of Representatives, 53 percent of the vote was Democratic, but the Republicans had some huge percentage of the seats. I think it was two-thirds. These kinds of things just are abhorrent to our democracy and we must change them, and we will. And as I’ve said before, failure is not an option and everything will be on the table. We’re continuing [to] have the discussions within the whole caucus.2
It baffles me why this was not more widely reported. I mean, here’s a Democrat saying another Democrat is wrong. Isn’t there a law requiring journalists to report “Dems in disarray”? It didn’t get play in the Post, the Times, the AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, USA Today, none of them. Only The Intercept, which deserves credit for reporting that Manchin’s and Murkowski’s proposal to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act made no sense whatever given that it’s already been reauthorized. I did not know that, but I’m also not a member of the Washington press corps, people you’d expect to know that.
Importantly, Schumer said failure is not an option and everything will be on the table. That suggests that nixing the filibuster is 1) optional and 2) increasingly optional in the face of things that are abhorrent to our democracy. Schumer added that we must change them, and we will, which suggests when not if. The question, therefore, is timing. And timing is going to be determined primarily by how the Republicans are willing to behave.
I think it comes down to this. Are the Republicans going to act less fascist than they have been since January 6? If the answer is yes, then the Democrats are in a pickle. They won’t feel the pressure necessary for enacting sweeping democracy reforms. If the answer is no, then the Democrats are going to be in a position in which they are forced to act in ways that would ordinarily seem nakedly partisan. To build the pressure necessary to nix the filibuster, though, they are going to need the conventional wisdom in Washington to be on their side, which is to say, conventional wisdom saying that it’s OK to act nakedly partisan. I think this past week saw the beginning of that process.