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Do Democrats Have An Ace Up Their Sleeve To Beat Filibuster On Voting Rights?

The Senate resumes Tuesday at noon, foregoing what would have been a week of recess for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in order to debate the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the combined voting rights and election reform bills passed by the House last week. That debate can’t be avoided, thanks to the process Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi engineered to bypass the first Republican filibuster, on the motion to proceed. The House folded the combined voting rights bill into an unrelated bill that was in reconciliation between the two chambers. Because the Senate had already passed the underlying bill, the whole thing can go directly to the floor for debate.

There, Democratic senators who aren’t Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will talk about its importance and—other than Mitch McConnell and a few grandstanders declaring that it’s a Democratic power grab trying to seize power from the states—Republicans will mostly not show up. That argument, by the way, is exactly the same framing that Southern segregationists in the 1950s and ‘60s used while filibustering civil and voting rights legislation.

Republicans—with the help of Manchin and Sinema—will use the filibuster in the most Jim Crow tradition to defeat the bill. Schumer and fellow Democrats—minus Manchin and Sinema—will move to alter the filibuster in order to pass the bills. Because of the two saboteurs will refuse to help save democracy, the bill will fail to pass. That is, unless a miracle of decency and enlightenment occurs between now and then for the two -- or Democrats agree to use another procedural gambit to outlast Republicans and pass it with a simple majority without ending the filibuster.

Democrats are pushing forward because, in the words of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, “We all have to be recorded at this moment in time about where are we in protecting the right to vote.”

In comments at a National Action Network event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Schumer called out Manchin and Sinema. He said he would do “everything in my power to advance legislation that would strengthen our democracy” despite the “two Democrats who don’t want to make that happen,” adding that the “fight is not over.”

“Far from it,” Schumer said. “I’m going down to Washington, and we are going to debate voting rights. We are going to debate it, and, in the Senate, you know we need 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster … but since we only have 50 Democrats in our razor-thin majority, the only path forward on this important issue is to change the rules to bypass the filibuster.”

“We must never give up,” Schumer said Monday. “We are going to continue till we get full voting rights for all Americans. We will never give up until we stop these horrible, horrible laws from passing, until we expand the right to vote, not contract it.”

How that’s going to happen, or when exactly, is not clear. As of Tuesday morning, the health status of all Democrats wasn’t apparent—Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii had tested positive for COVID last week, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was absent for an undisclosed reason. It’s possible there won’t be 50 Democrats available right now to move forward.

That could argue for that other procedural trick at Schumer’s disposal—it would buy time. That’s to use yet another Senate rule to force Republicans to hold the floor with speeches and procedural motions and tire either them or the two traitor Democrats out enough to just break the filibuster.

This is something Democrats are looking at. “There are a couple of paths here. Do we go down the path and do a long debate until it’s done and then have a simple debate?” Kaine said last week. “We wouldn’t need a rules change to pass the bill by simple majority if the debate is over. Theoretically, you do not need a rules change to pass a bill that’s on the floor, you just have to allow debate to occur,” he added.

James Wallner, a former Senate Republican aide and expert on Senate procedure, explained how it would work. “The easiest way to get to final passage on this bill is to put it on the floor and have Vice President Kamala Harris or Majority Leader Schumer or any other senator start to make points of order against any senator who tries to speak more than twice.” That’s Senate Rule XIX, which says a senator can’t speak more than twice on the same question on a legislative day. That would mean Schumer would have to keep the Senate in session indefinitely—staying on the same legislative day for days, possibly weeks. That means simply recessing at night instead of adjourning. That would force Republicans to debate until all 50 of them had spoken twice.

That would put some pressure on the 16 sitting Republicans, including McConnell, who are on the record in support of the federal government protecting voting rights. Those sixteen have all voted to reauthorize the federal Voting Rights Act.

But it would also require a much more coordinated Democratic caucus than we’re used to seeing, and a presiding officer who was rock solid on the rules. “This requires a more aggressive presiding officer,” a senior aide to Senate Democrats told The Hill. “The parliamentarian is not going to advise the presiding officer, ‘Nobody seems to be seeking debate so bring the question.’ It will have to be affirmatively sought by the presiding officer.” The aide added: “The two-speech rule is hard to make work because you can always offer another amendment or bring up a new debate proposition and then get two more speeches out of that. And once again, the parliamentarian doesn’t look to enforce it again, so it would have to be presiding officer causing the parliamentarian to do something they don’t traditionally do.”

It would also mean that all 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris would have to be available all the time to squash Republican procedural motions. It requires both energy and discipline. If Schumer could muster that among his conference for a week, maybe two, it actually might wear Sinema and Manchin down to the point where they would give in on a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. Or not. The tactic would also force Manchin to stand by his claims that he thinks the talking filibuster should be restored. Because this would be essentially that, a talking filibuster.

There’s really nothing else pending in the immediate term to keep Democrats from trying this, though we’re just one month away from the next must-pass government funding bill. The continuing resolution that government is currently operating on runs out on February 18. A potential government shutdown could serve as an additional pressure point on Manchin and Sinema, who were more than happy to support a filibuster carve out in a similar situation last month, with the debt ceiling.

“They can table at any point anything before the Senate, so the Democrats are literally in simple-majority territory right now,” Wallner told The Hill. "They’ve got the majority, even though in a 50-50 Senate that’s kind of a technicality. They have it and they need to use it."

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

To Honor King's Legacy, Biden Continues Push For Voting Rights

By Andrea Shalal

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia on Sunday to honor the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., as he continues to press for voting rights legislation and concerted action to combat rising extremism.

Biden's visit to the "City of Brotherly Love" comes hours after an FBI hostage rescue team stormed a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, to free three hostages after a more than 10-hour standoff. Another hostage had been freed earlier.

The president, who was briefed on the crisis as it unfolded, said there was more to learn about what motivated the hostage-taker, but pledged to "stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country."

Biden and first lady Jill Biden are volunteering at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia, to mark Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

In a proclamation on Friday, Biden warned against complacency and said it was crucial to continue King's work by enacting legislation to protect voting rights, opposing the rise of white supremacism and other forms of extremism, and pressing for greater economic justice.

"Living up to his legacy, and what Dr. King believed our Nation could become, requires more than just reflection -- it requires action," Biden said in the proclamation.

"That is why the Congress must pass Federal legislation to protect the right to vote -- a right that is under attack by a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion. We must confront the scourge of racism and white supremacy -- a stain on our Nation -- and give hate no safe harbor in America."

But Biden's push to enact voting rights legislation appears doomed after Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin said they opposed changing the Senate's filibuster rule, which requires that 60 of the 100 senators agree on most legislation, in a chamber where Democrats now hold only 50 seats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still plans to begin debate on the voting rights legislation on Tuesday. If Republicans block that bill as anticipated, Schumer said he was still prepared to seek a change in the Senate's filibuster rule to win passage. But given Sinema and Manchin's stance, efforts to change the filibuster appear doomed to fail.

Biden told reporters on Thursday he was not certain the bill could pass now but vowed to keep trying.

"One thing for certain: Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. We missed this time."

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a voting bill on Thursday. But Democrats cannot overcome universal Republican opposition in the Senate without changing the filibuster.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Schumer Gives Sternest Warning On Democracy Yet To Manchin And Sinema

Between January 1 and December 7,” an end-of-year analysis by the Brennan Center says, “at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting.” The emphasis is in the original because it needs to be emphasized. There were 440 bills introduced in 49 states last year to restrict voting, at least 88 of which will carry on into 2022 legislative sessions. Ominously, the Brennan Center identifies a “new trend” in 2021: “legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely.”

This is an “alarming and unprecedented attack on our democracy,” as the Brennan Center says, and that it followed a violent, physical attack on our democracy at the Capitol on January 6 is even more alarming. Hundreds of Republican lawmakers around the country watched what happened on January 6 and instead of rejecting the assault in horror, they decided they had to figure out how to legalize it, codify it. All 50 of the U.S. Senate Republicans are tacitly approving that response, even though they were among the literal targets of the January 6 rioters. Just one, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, has signaled a willingness to possibly consider congressional action to preserve democracy.

Those 50 Republicans can stick together under the cover of two Democratic senators: Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin. Traditional media is almost entirely ignoring the fact that those 50 Republican senators are subverting democracy by refusing to protect it—including the eight who voted to overturn election results after the attack, after their lives were endangered by the mob Trump sicced on them. They’re let off the hook because Sinema and Manchin, for whatever reasons of their own, have been using their 15 minutes of fame to do so.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling an end to all that, and soon. “Over the coming weeks, the Senate will once again consider how to perfect this union and confront the historic challenges facing our democracy,” he told his colleagues in a letter Monday. “We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us. But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections.”

On the floor Tuesday, he reiterated that, framing the question in the anniversary of the January 6 attacks and the efforts by Republicans in the states to undermine the sanctity of our elections.

“If Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the chamber to prevent action on something as critical as protecting our democracy,” Schumer continued, “then the Senate will debate and consider changes to the rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

A number of Democratic senators including Virginia’s Tim Kaine, Montana’s Jon Tester, and independent Angus King from Maine have been working on Manchin for weeks, including over the Christmas break. Those talks are still continuing, though it’s not clear they’re making any dent.

Manchin told reporters Tuesday morning that he’s having “good conversations” and does recognize “the need for us to protect democracy as we know it.” They’ve gotten that far at least. He said, “I’m talking, I’m not agreeing to any of this,” by which he meant the various possibilities for filibuster reform. He wants bipartisan support for it, saying it’s his “absolute preference.” Which is moving the goal post out of the solar system. Even he has to be cognizant of that fact.

Manchin is also remaining willfully ignorant of the facts on Senate rules. “Once you change rules or have a carve out—I’ve always said this: Anytime there’s a carve out, you eat the whole turkey because it comes back. So you want things that’ll be sustainable.” The Senate just last month created a one-time carve-out in the ridiculously convoluted process they followed to raise the debt ceiling. There have been at least 161 exceptions to the filibuster created since 1969, and the Senate is still in business. Massively dysfunctional, yes, but still standing.

Sinema, as usual, isn’t talking right now. Whether that means she’s not engaging with her colleagues on the issue, whether they’re even trying to engage with her, isn’t clear. Through a spokesperson, she reiterated her opposition to changing the filibuster even though she says she is supportive of both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. There seems to be a general sense among Democrats that Manchin is who they need to get, and that Sinema won’t want to stand alone in opposition.

We’ll find out in the next few weeks.

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

'Titan': Former US Senate Leader Harry Reid Dies At 82

Washington (AFP) - Former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who rose from humble beginnings to lead the upper chamber during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has died aged 82.

"I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband," his wife, Landra, said in a statement released to US media, adding he died "peacefully... surrounded by our family."

Reid, who used his experience in Congress to help Obama steer his landmark Affordable Care Act through the Senate, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Laconic and soft-spoken, Reid was born and raised in the mining town of Searchlight, Nevada on December 2, 1939, in a house with no hot water or indoor toilets.

A prize-fighter in his youth, he used his pugilistic instincts to work his way up to becoming one of the longest-serving majority leaders in the history of the US senate, and even called his memoir The Good Fight.

Current Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said Reid was "one of the most amazing individuals I've ever met."

"He never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor & middle class," Schumer said on Twitter.

'Skill And Determination'

Despite his hardscrabble upbringing, he was elected to the Senate in 1986 and became the upper chamber's Democratic leader in the 2004 elections. He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

Reid often referred to his working class origins -- his father was a miner, his mother a laundress, and neither parent graduated from high school.

He hitchhiked 40 miles (65 kilometers) as a teenager to attend the nearest high school, and then graduated from Utah State University and put himself through George Washington University Law School by working nights as a member of the US Capitol police.

Quixotic, he once filibustered the Republicans by himself for nine hours, by reading from the history book he wrote about his hometown of Searchlight.

Reid was more conservative than most other Democrats in the Senate. A practicing Mormon, he was staunchly against abortion rights -- a stance that sometimes found him working at cross purposes with others in his Democratic caucus.

In lieu of a statement, Obama made public a letter he had written to Reid shortly before his death, in which he said: "I wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn't have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Reid a "titan," describing him as "a leader of immense courage and ferocious conviction who worked tirelessly to achieve historic progress for the American people."

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said that Reid's rise from poverty to political power was a "quintessentially American story, and it took Harry's legendary toughness, bluntness, and tenacity to make it happen."

Democrats Are Done Playing Nice With Joe Manchin

The defeat of President Biden's Build Back Better plan by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) demonstrated two things: Electing a legit progressive Democratic Senator in 2022 (or one who cares less about his massive ego) should be priority number one, and the other is Democrats are going to have to discover some much-needed backbone and stop playing nice with this narcissistic DINO.

The White House already issued a blistering statement in response to Sen. Manchin breaking his word and lying to President Biden, but it seems the entire party feels completely free to lay into this one mammoth a-hole. Since Senator Manchin loves to run to the media for cover and stroke his Mount Rushmore-sized ego, fellow Democrats made sure to beat him to the punch.

Senate Democrats Lay Into Manchin's Betrayal

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Biden's COVID-19 Relief Bill Created Millions Of Jobs, Report Confirms

A new report from the Roosevelt Institute found that the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion spending bill passed by Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March — blunted some of the worst economic effects of COVID-19.

"There are many achievements to celebrate, from millions more jobs and higher wages to greater economic security and increased worker power," the report's authors, Mike Konczal and Emily DiVito, wrote. "And even better, we avoided the worst-case alternative: the weaker, slower recovery that was projected if the American Rescue Plan (ARP) had not passed, and deeper harm to those who've historically been left behind by past recoveries."

The stimulus package pushed growth beyond government predictions across several categories, including employment, wages, and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the report.

Before the stimulus package was passed, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee predicted a slow, grinding recovery similar to the one that followed the 2008 economic recession. But after the American Rescue Plan went into effect, unemployment rates fell rapidly with the addition of more than 1.3 million jobs. At present, the U.S. economy is rebounding roughly eight times faster than it did after 2008.

The American Rescue Plan has been especially crucial for younger and lower-income workers. Using data from the Atlanta Federal Reserve, the Roosevelt Institute found that workers aged 16 to 24 saw a 9.7 percent wage increase, while the bottom quarter of wage-earners saw a 5.1 percent increase — even when accounting for inflation.

The American Rescue Plan has also benefited American workers more broadly. According to
Arindrajit Dube, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the bottom 70 percent of workers have seen "real wage growth" over the past two years. Given that U.S. wages have remained stagnant for decades, this represents a significant shift in favor of American workers. From 1964 to 2018, the average American hourly wage increased by just two dollars, adjusted for inflation — a paltry 10 percent raise over the course of 54 years.

Other benefits have accrued to the bottom of the economic pyramid.

The Roosevelt Institute's analysis found that, in large part because of the American Rescue Plan, the wealth of the bottom 50 percent of households has grown 63 percent from pre-pandemic levels. Now, the bottom half of Americans collectively own $3 trillion.

Despite these wins for American workers, staggering levels of wealth inequality persist. The wealthiest one percent controls more than $42 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Still, the American Rescue Plan has given economic relief to millions of U.S. households, many of whom were struggling long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2018, 40 percent of Americans said they would struggle to cover an unexpected $400 expense, the Federal Reserve found.

As a result of this newfound economic security, workers are now better positioned to find new and better jobs, according to the Roosevelt Institute's report. The authors point to markers of worker mobility, which are at historic highs. They also argued that workers now have more leverage to fight for better working conditions, with nearly 1,000 strikes and labor actions taking place this year. And data show that workers largely support this resurgent labor movement: fully 68 percent of Americans say they approve of unions, the largest share since 1965.

The report also notes that, according to the International Monetary Fund, the American economy is expected to grow by nearly 8% between 2020 and 2022. This far outpaces the economic growth rates of comparable countries such as Canada, Germany, Japan, and Italy. It even outpaces the IMF's earlier projections for the United States, which had GDP increasing by less than 2% over the same time period.

This sharp uptick in U.S. economic growth is "a direct effect" of the American Rescue Plan, according to the Roosevelt Institute report.

The United States still faces very real challenges, including new coronavirus variants, supply chain issues, and "surprising inflation," the report's authors write. But overall, they argue, the American Rescue Plan's successes "deserve a central place in the story of this recovery. Everything, from rapid job growth on down, was a choice based on prioritizing full employment. That was the right decision."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Senate Advances Bill To Raise Debt Limit And Avert Disastrous Default

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress' months-long drive to raise the federal government's $28.9 trillion debt limit, and avert an unprecedented default, took a step forward on Thursday as the Senate advanced the first of two bills needed for the hike.

Fourteen Republicans joined the chamber's 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them in voting to end debate on the first bill, spurning right-wing demands that they boycott any measure leading to an increase in the Treasury Department's borrowing authority.

"I'm optimistic that after today's vote we will be on a glide path to avoid a catastrophic default," the chamber's top Democrat, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said in a speech before the 64-36 vote on a measure he negotiated with Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell to speed passage.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the limit before December 15.

Republicans for months have been maneuvering to try to force Democrats to raise the debt limit on their own, seeking to link the move to President Joe Biden's proposed $1.75 trillion "Build Back Better" domestic spending bill.

Democrats note that the legislation is needed to finance substantial debt incurred during Donald Trump's administration, when Republicans willingly jacked up Washington's credit card bill by about $7.85 trillion, partly through sweeping tax cuts and spending to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate could vote as early as Thursday evening to pass the first of two pieces of legislation needed to raise the borrowing limit to a still-under-negotiation amount intended to cover Washington's expenses through the 2022 midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.

Democrats will need only a simple majority, including Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote, to pass the two pieces of legislation and raise the debt limit.

A final vote, in the House of Representatives, is likely on Tuesday and President Joe Biden is expected to sign both bills into law once they pass.

'Right Thing To Do'

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is up for re-election next year, told reporters that she voted to advance the first bill because "It was the right thing to do."

She added that at a time when Russia is amassing troops on its border with Ukraine, "we don't need to be sending signals anywhere in the world that we're not going to back the full faith and credit in the United States."

The break in the legislative deadlock came just two months after Congress agreed on a short-term lift to the debt ceiling, to avert an unprecedented default by the federal government on its obligations, which would have dire implications for the world economy.

For years, lawmakers have squirmed over raising the statutory limit on the country's growing debt, fearing voter backlash.

The emergence in 2010 of the conservative, small-government "Tea Party" movement increased the rancor in Congress over such legislation, even as lawmakers voted for tax cuts and spending increases that contribute to the debt.

The Bipartisan Policy Center think thank warned last week that the government could risk default by late this month if Congress does not act.

Democrats noted that they had voted in the past to authorize debt ceiling hikes to cover Republican measures, such as the Trump tax cuts.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Andrea Ricci)

Pelosi Expects Votes On Both Biden Spending Bills This Week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democrats have almost reached an agreement on a pared-down social spending bill that contains some of U.S. President Joe Biden's priorities and plan to vote on that and an infrastructure bill in the coming week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday.

"I think we're pretty much there now," Pelosi said in an interview with CNN's State of the Union as Biden held a breakfast meeting in Delaware with fellow Democrats Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate who has objected to parts of the bill.

A White House official said the senators were meeting at Biden's home in Delaware but did not give details.

Democrats have struggled to agree on a framework of $2 trillion or less that will allow the House of Representatives to move forward next week on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and set the stage for passage of Biden's larger "Build Back Better" social and climate-change package.

"Schumer and Manchin are having the meeting on some of the particulars that need to be finalized. I'm optimistic that we can do that," Pelosi said.

Asked if votes on the two bills would be held in the coming week, Pelosi said, "That's the plan."

Disagreements over the scale of the larger package have held up Biden's domestic agenda, with progressive Democrats in the House refusing to vote for the infrastructure bill, which has already been passed by the Senate, until a deal is reached on social programs and climate change.

Moderate Democrats, most notably Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, had objected to the original $3.5 trillion price tag and some provisions of the latter bill. Republicans oppose the measure, but 19 in the Senate voted in support of the infrastructure legislation.

Pelosi said on Friday there were only a few outstanding issues on the legislation's healthcare provisions and that decisions also remained on which revenue provisions to include.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Michael Martina, Jarrett Renshaw and Richard Cowan; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool)