The Downballot: Missouri Dems filibuster GOP into submission (transcript)

Democrats may be in the minority in the Missouri Senate, but you wouldn't know it after they staged an epic filibuster that just forced Republicans to abandon a cynical ploy to undermine direct democracy and thwart abortion rights.

Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in Democrats' record-breaking legislative marathon. Arthur breaks down the GOP's scheme to con voters into making it harder to amend the state constitution and explains how Democrats hung together through a 50-hour filibuster to protect cherished civil rights.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's primaries, punctuated by Angela Alsobrooks' victory in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat in the face of a $60 million onslaught. The Davids also highlight a big flip in Alaska, where a Democratic-backed independent is on course to unseat Anchorage's far-right mayor once final votes are tallied.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast, dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: We've got another busy primary night to cover.

Nir: We do indeed. There were primaries across the country on Tuesday, so we are recapping the top races, including a contest in Maryland that could prove to be history-making in November. There were also interesting races in West Virginia and far across the country in Alaska, where a runoff was held for Anchorage mayor that saw Democrats flip a very important post.

Then for our deep dive, we are talking with Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a record-setting filibuster to prevent the GOP from undermining direct democracy in the state. It's an amazing conversation. Lauren walks us all through a talking filibuster, just like you see in the movies. There is a ton to discuss, so let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, we had a ton of primary action on Tuesday night, but we have to start with the big race and I am really, really happy about this result in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat. I think this was just a fantastic outcome and I am super happy with the candidate that Democrats nominated.

Beard: Yeah, there were two main Democratic candidates in the race for the open seat, Representative David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. They're both from the Washington area, which is interesting because there wasn't really a Baltimore candidate. And Trone spent a ton of money here, and so he led a lot of the early polling, but Alsobrooks closed great. She ended up winning by, I think, a larger margin than anyone expected, really, going into the night.

She's currently up 54-42 on Trone. There is a decent chunk of mail ballots that came in late, that are still to be counted in Maryland. So that margin could adjust a little bit, but being up 12 points, the AP called it for her. So she's going to be the Democratic nominee. There's still a decent chunk of mail ballots out still to be counted, later this week. She'll definitely move on to the general election against former Governor Larry Hogan.

Nir: Yeah, we'll talk about the general election in a second, but the primary was really something because Trone didn't just self-fund the race, he broke records. He spent more than $60 million of his own money, which almost beats the all-time self-funding record for an entire Senate race, but that includes a general election. That record is actually held by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who's also up for re-election this fall, but Trone smashed all records for primaries. He was able to do this because he is the owner of a giant liquor store retail chain called Total Wine, and there's no question that he was sure all along that his money would provide him the definitive advantage and the reason why he was going to win this primary, in his mind. He started advertising on TV almost a year before the race. He wound up outspending Alsobrooks by, I think, around 10 to one.

The margin was completely ridiculous, but the reason why Alsobrooks won is because she had a real base of support. That really understates it. She has such widespread support, and I think affection, among Maryland's Democratic political establishment, and that counts for a ton. And we're going to see this theme come up again later in this show, but having that built-in base of support matters so, so much, and I think that this proves that money cannot simply overcome the connections, and party building, and networking that Alsobrooks has engaged in for many, many years. Trone's only been in office for a few terms. He just simply didn't have the deep network that Alsobrooks had and money wasn't the substitute.

Beard: Yeah, and we've seen this before with candidates who primarily self-fund because they don't have to raise money, and so they don't have to engage within the greater party infrastructure in the same way that candidates who raise money have to and often continually do throughout their careers. I'll also say that Trone was a congressman. He was in D.C. Obviously, Alsobrooks is in a suburb of D.C., Prince George's County, but is very much more within the Maryland political structure. But we saw the federal Maryland Democrats, who you think might side with a fellow congressman, largely side with Alsobrooks, which I think is a pretty clear sign to a voter as to who these folks, who are elected officials, really think would be the better senator in these instances.

I'll also add that there was an interesting figure thrown around on Twitter on Tuesday night where money — like we said — does not decide races, but money still matters. Because I saw a tweet to you about, oh, money doesn't matter, which is not the case. There are three counties in Maryland's Eastern Shore that have a different media market than the rest of the state, which is covered by either the Baltimore media market or the Washington D.C. media market, where Trone spent a significant amount of money and Alsobrooks spent no money because she was more limited in her funds and focused on the two big media markets.

And those three counties were some of Trone's best counties and in fact much, much better for Trone than the other Eastern Shore counties in Baltimore's media market where he still won, but he won by a much narrower margin. So it's one of those things where you can clearly see how money matters, but it's not definitive. Other things matter too, as we saw ultimately with the endorsements and Alsobrooks's overall campaign.

Nir: Yeah, money has diminishing returns. I think the important thing is to have enough to run a credible campaign and get your message out there, which Alsobrooks certainly did. But after a certain point, it probably doesn't help a whole lot in moving the needle.

So now we're on to the general election. Republicans were excited. They felt that they had gotten a recruiting coup when they got former Governor Larry Hogan, who served two terms and was quite popular when he left office in 2022, when they got him to say he was going to run for Senate, even though he had previously really crapped on the idea of serving in the Senate.

But the reality is, as we have mentioned before on the show, it's much easier to win a state's governorship if you're from the out party than it is to win a Senate seat. We have seen this story so many times, Steve Bullock in Montana, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Ted Strickland in Ohio, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee. It's just an incredibly hard lift, and Hogan can pretend all he wants that a victory for him would not undermine abortion access for women, but voters are not that naive. They understand that the Senate is governed by parties and there will be a lot of ads run, making very clear that Hogan will be a vote for whoever replaces Mitch McConnell.

So Hogan would have to win a ton of folks who are ready to vote for Joe Biden, because Joe Biden's going to win the state by large margin, in order to somehow defeat Alsobrooks. In addition, there is a measure on the ballot in November, in Maryland this year, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Hogan has a crappy record on abortion.

What is he going to say when he's asked how he's voting on that measure? It's one thing to pretend, oh, I would never change a law, yada yada. Okay, but now we do have an opportunity to change a law for the better, do you support it? No. So I am a huge skeptic about Hogan's chances. I know that Mitch McConnell was talking him up recently, but of course, Mitch McConnell's going to say that. Anyway, I really don't see this race as being a major focus once we get to November.

Beard: Yeah, and one of the big factors around this governor versus Senate aspect is a lot of governor's races take place in midterms, with smaller electorates who are not voting for the president at the top of the ticket, and priming them at that partisan level for most people. So for him to go from running, well, he first won the governor's race in 2014, which was a very Republican year, and then he was able to play the incumbency on the feeling that his governorship was a success, into reelection in 2018 — also a midterm year, even though it was a better year for Democrats.

He hasn't had to run in a presidential year with a Democrat at the top of the ticket, winning Maryland by likely more than 30 points. And that is such a huge, enormous deficit to overcome without even getting into, like you said, all the arguments around, hey, you're going to go to D.C. and you're going to vote for Mitch McConnell's or Republican successor to lead the Senate. You're either going to block Biden's judges or you're going to facilitate Trump's judges.

There are a lot of things you're going to be party line about because that's how Congress works, and so I totally agree with you. I'm very, very skeptical of this race even being close by the end of the day. I think ultimately, Hogan ran for Congress twice before he became governor. I think he toyed around a lot with the national spotlight and potentially running for president in some form or fashion, but ultimately he just seemed like a guy who really wanted to run for office again, and this ended up being where he ended up, but I don't think he's terribly likely to win.

Nir: So we have a few more primaries from Tuesday night to discuss. Maryland also had a few open House seats due to retirements, and also Trone running for the Senate. In the third district, which is very blue turf in the Baltimore area, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth defeated former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. She is, as of this recording, up 35-25. This puts her on a glide path to joining Congress next year because, like I said, this is a solidly blue seat and there is almost no chance of Republicans flipping it in November.

This to me, was another interesting race, somewhat comparable to the one we were just talking about, because Harry Dunn was a huge hero for his service on Jan. 6th when he defended the Capitol against the riot. He became a very prominent figure, and he raised an enormous, enormous sum of money, more than $4 million from small donors all across the nation, and that made him a force to be reckoned with. But he didn't live in the district. You don't have to live in the district, as we know, but he didn't live in the district.

His ties weren't quite as strong and Elfreth, a little bit like Alsobrooks, did represent a good chunk of the district. She did have good ties to the political establishment and she also benefited from a lot of outside spending. AIPAC came in big for her, but at the end of the day, it was that personal direct tie to the area that wound up winning the race for her.

Beard: Yeah. Dunn had some really interesting national endorsements. In fact, former speaker, Nancy Pelosi endorsed Dunn and it really seemed from a D.C. perspective that he was the leading figure and was probably the favorite. So it was definitely a little bit of a surprise. Of course, as you mentioned, Elfreth had significant outside help monetarily to keep up with the money that Dunn had raised, and I think once she was able to be competitive financially on the air, her ties, as you mentioned, really came through a big chunk of that district had voted for her before for the Senate and of course was comfortable voting for her to send her to Congress.

So I think that's another piece of evidence that these local ties, and the experience that you have in lower office, are a great way to set yourself up. That's not the only way to get to Congress, but I think if you look overall, the most common way to get to Congress is to have a lower office where people know and have supported you in the past, and we see that here with Elfreth.

Nir: I think that the example of Harry Dunn might also be quite relevant for another primary that's coming up next month down in Virginia in the open 7th District where Eugene Vindman, another hero of the resistance as it were, has also raised huge sums nationally. His identical twin brother Alexander Vindman was the chief whistleblower in the Ukraine matter that ultimately led to Trump's first impeachment. But Vindman doesn't have particularly strong ties to that district, and so we will see once again, whether it's the establishment and local roots versus a huge infusion of grassroots money that carries the day.

Beard: Yeah. The interesting question I think in comparing these two districts, is whether there is an Elfreth-type character with both the local support, and either funding internally or funding from an outside group that's going to make that person competitive with Vindman's money. Because I could see Vindman getting a similar percentage of support as Harry Dunn getting like 25% or so, but in this case, if there's not a single opponent who's going to get 35 or 30%, he could easily win that primary. There's not a runoff in Virginia and he could go on and be the nominee with that lower level of support if there's not a consolidation around another candidate.

One other race that we want to note from Maryland is the Baltimore mayor's race where incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott defeated former mayor Sheila Dixon. He's currently up 51 to 41 as of this recording. Dixon was the mayor a number of years ago. She resigned after being convicted of embezzlement. She ran again and narrowly lost to Scott four years ago, and was back for another try. Scott seems to have defeated her more comfortably this time, and he of course will sail to the general election as Baltimore is an extremely, extremely Democratic city.

Nir: One interesting thing about Scott is that he is the first Baltimore mayor in quite some time to win two full terms at the ballot box. There's been a lot of turnover, people leaving office early due to scandal and resignation like Dixon did. The last person to do so was Martin O'Malley. O'Malley didn't wind up serving out two full terms, but that's because he wound up becoming governor in 2006. So Scott's success could see this become a potential stepping stone for him for future higher office.

Beard: The other state that had a ton of competitive primaries on Tuesday night was West Virginia. Of course in this case, they were mostly on the Republican side, whereas in Maryland, we mostly focused on the Democratic side. The race that had the clearest front runner was the Senate primary where Governor Jim Justice easily won. He crushed his opponent. Congressman Alex Mooney, 62-27, and is almost certainly going to be the next senator from West Virginia replacing retiring Democrat Joe Manchin.

Nir: The much more contested race was the Republican primary for governor. We mentioned this one before. This was the most disgusting Republican primary we have seen in quite some time. The entire race was focused on each candidate trying to prove that they were more transphobic than the next guy. Every single campaign and every single outside group was running ads, just trying to demonstrate to voters just how transphobic they are. And the winner of this disgusting contest was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

He defeated Del. Moore Capito who is the son of Shelley Moore Capito, the state's other senator, by a 33-28 margin. Morrisey, of course, lost to Joe Manchin in 2018 by what wound up being a surprisingly close margin; Republicans had kind of given up on him in that race and Manchin won. But it was by no means a blowout and probably a key reason why Manchin decided to retire ahead of this election. Anyway, just like Jim Justice, Morrisey is just about dead certain to become the state's next governor, and he is going to be an absolutely foul figure.

Beard: Yeah. There's really no candidate to root for in this. All of them were terrible. None of them took any sort of more positive path through the West Virginia Republican primary, which I doubt would've been a good idea. They probably all ran the race that made them most likely to win. It's just unfortunate that a race involved them being transphobic and awful throughout the entirety of the primary campaign. The most interesting thing you can say about it was that Morrisey's support in the northern part of the state was able to carry him through relatively poorer showings in the southern part of the state, particularly because the other candidates had a tendency to split the support, whereas Capito won a number of counties in the southern part of the state including the county with the capital of Charleston.

He also lost a number of counties to the third-place finisher Chris Miller, which meant that Morrisey's northern support, including some a few counties in the south, was able to carry the day with only 33% of the vote.

Nir: So clear across the country about as far across the country as you can possibly get, we had another super interesting race on Tuesday night. This was not a primary. This was a runoff for the mayor's position in Anchorage Alaska and we had a flip. Suzanne LaFrance, who previously was a member of Anchorage's equivalent to a city council, appears to have ousted incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson. She was up 45 the day after the election. There are still an unknown number of ballots left to count, but media reports all indicate that there aren't enough for Bronson to make up the difference, which is currently about 5,000 votes.

If LaFrance hangs on as it certainly looks like she will, she would be the first woman ever elected as mayor of Anchorage, which of course is by far Alaska's largest city. Now, this race was nominally nonpartisan, but as they almost always are in high-salience races like this one these days, the battle lines were quite clear.

Bronson is a far-right Republican while LaFrance is an independent, but she had been endorsed by the Anchorage Democratic Party. Bronson ran a very typical GOP playbook. He tried to attack LaFrance as woke and in the grips of some crazy far-left ideology. And LaFrance responded by running a pretty non-ideological campaign. She focused on questions about Bronson's competence and his penchant for getting into fights and issues like snow removal, which obviously is pretty damn important in Alaska. In the end, we saw which kind of campaign won out. It was the one about issues that actually matter to people, not the one about crazy paranoid fearmongering.

Beard: Yeah. Bronson won his first race three years ago, very, very narrowly. So I think the forces in opposition to him, which included both the center and the left, had a clear target to say that this person was too far right. He certainly governed that way and they were able to consolidate the anti-Bronson support behind this independent candidate with the Democratic Party support, as you said.

And it looks like that was enough to overcome any incumbency advantages that he might've accrued over the past three years. And so it looks like, hopefully, Anchorage is going to get a much better mayor.

Nir: So interestingly, even though more than a third of the state lives in Anchorage, the mayoralty hasn't really been much of a stepping stone for Republicans, but it has for Democrats. The last two Democrats who represented Alaska in the US Senate, Mark Begich and Tony Knowles, both served as mayor before seeking higher office.

Now, we should probably wait until LaFrance is actually sworn in before we start talking about her next steps, but who knows? We could be hearing more about her in the future.

Beard: Yeah. There are plenty of Republicans to take on in Alaska, so we will see where that might go.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up on our deep dive, we are talking to Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a historic filibuster to thwart the GOP's efforts to undermine direct democracy in the state of Missouri. It is a fantastic conversation. Please stay with us after the break.


Nir: Democrats in the Missouri state Senate have just emerged victorious after a historic filibuster in defense of direct democracy that could have major implications for abortion rights. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in this record-breaking marathon, to explain the stakes to us and tell us exactly what is going on. Lauren, we could not be more grateful to you for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lauren Arthur: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue that's important for Missourians, but also I would argue, says a lot about the state of our democracy.

Nir: Absolutely. So before we get to the filibuster, I think we need a little bit of background here. The background is that Republicans want to put an amendment on the ballot on the same day as Missouri's August 6th primary this summer, which would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future. So what exactly would that GOP amendment do?

Arthur: So I'll start by talking a little about the initiative petition process. It's a really helpful tool when Missourians feel like their legislators are not responding or they're refusing to act on certain issues that are important to them, Missourians can collect enough signatures and send that issue to voters directly. In order for that to pass, it requires a majority vote. Missourians have approved things like Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage, and recreational and medical marijuana through the initiative petition process.

Republicans in Missouri, obviously they disagree with a lot of those positions and they want to make it harder to amend the state constitution. They would require that a majority of five out of eight congressional districts approve that measure. And we've seen some analysis that indicates as few voters as 23% of Missouri voters could defeat a ballot measure. So basically the effect of that is it would dilute the voices of those who live in more populous areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, and it would give more power and weight to the votes of those in rural Missouri.

Nir: This sounds awfully familiar because Republicans have been very open about their intentions, many of them at least. They want to stop an amendment, an initiative petition as you called it, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, which currently looks likely to appear on the November ballot. Organizers just submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures, and if it passes, it would reverse Missouri's near-total ban on abortion.

But as we saw just last year in Ohio, Republicans tried almost the exact same thing, and their effort failed very badly when they tried to make future amendments harder, that failed, and then abortion rights did pass there. Missouri Republicans have an idea to overcome what I think is a very natural resistance among voters to curtailing their own rights, which they've called — and opponents have called — 'ballot candy.' What exactly does that term mean? Because that is a very unusual term.

Arthur: Yeah. As you said, I think Republicans recognize that the measure will be incredibly unpopular and that people understand and support the concept of one person, one vote. So the idea of ballot candy, they've tried to add in language that is completely unrelated to the idea of making it more difficult to amend the Constitution, but these are going to be things that appeal to more conservative voters and frankly that seem common sense.

So things like they included language that non-citizens shouldn't be allowed to vote. That's already the case in Missouri. It is illegal. It is clearly defined, and there is no threat that non-citizens would gain the right to vote in Missouri elections on an initiative petition.

But they think that if voters show up to the polls, don't know what is going to appear before them on the ballot, they'll see that initial language and think 'That makes sense, I'm going to vote for that' and move on without realizing that they're actually undermining their own voting power. The reason they call it ballot candy is, basically, that it sweetens the measure so that it's more appealing and appetizing to Missouri voters.

Beard: Now, Republicans have wide majorities in both chambers of the Missouri legislature, but the state Senate is unusual in that filibusters are allowed, but your filibuster operates pretty differently from the one in the US Senate that I think most of our listeners are familiar with. So how does that work and walk us through the decision to start this filibuster?

Arthur: Yeah, absolutely. The Missouri Senate is a unique and special institution where any senator can decide to stand up, and we have a standing talking filibuster. So if someone wants to oppose a piece of legislation, he or she or they can stand up and talk on the motion or the legislation before the body. And usually, that's used to force compromise. Sometimes it can be used effectively to kill legislation, but it requires that people are standing and talking. And the Senate Democrats have been doing that for the last 50 hours where throughout the course of that time, someone was standing and making the case that this is really wrong-headed for the state of Missouri. And I have been awake for so long. I think I forgot your original question.

Beard: Totally understandable. Yeah. My other part to the question was the decision to launch a filibuster against this legislation specifically.

Arthur: Yeah. So because we only have 10 members in a body of 34 senators, we really have to pick and choose our battles. And this is such a fundamental issue protecting one person, one vote. It is foundational to our democracy. It is about fairness and justice and protecting the things that we hold dear as a democracy. So Democratic senators actually allowed that legislation to pass out of the Senate earlier this year because the whole time we've said, we really oppose the idea that you're going to make it more difficult to amend the constitution. But if you insist that that is a priority, we just want to make sure that it's a fair fight. That voters are informed. That they can read language that tells them what the amendment would actually do, and we trust voters to make the right decision when they understand what it is they're voting on.

So Democratic senators, once they cleaned that ballot candy off back in February and sent a clean version of the resolution, Democratic senators sat down voted no, and said, "Okay. We'll let that continue through the process." It was when it returned that it had that ballot candy on, and at that point, we just felt like it was such an important issue that we didn't want to in any way allow the GOP to try to deceive and lie to Missouri voters. It's just not right. So we felt really strongly that this was something we had to dig in.

Nir: So you mentioned that the Missouri Senate's filibuster is a talking filibuster, and that makes it very, very different from the United States Senate. And I think the talking filibuster is what most people think of when they hear that word. They imagine a sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington kind of situation, and you actually have been living that. So walk us through what that's like. When exactly did it start? Are you taking turns? Is there anything you can and can't do? Are Republicans hoping to trip you up and catch you in a momentary second to try to end the filibuster? How does that all work?

Arthur: Yeah. So with the standing filibuster, basically someone seeks recognition, and then the way that the Democrats prefer to filibuster is by inquiring to one another. So we've had our filibuster partners and we work in shifts. Senators have stood and debated on the resolution.

We've talked about other important priorities, our vision for the state, and a couple of random topics about recommended movies, TV shows, and music to help fill those three hours, which can feel a little bit long when you're just standing up and talking. I mean, it's physical. You're standing at your desk for three hours at least. Some have picked up extra shifts and really helped out. It's been an incredible team effort, and I'm really proud of everyone for stepping up and sacrificing sleep, and at times hydration, and talking at all hours of the night.

We have decided that it was probably in our best interest to not be super hostile or aggressive towards the GOP, and that's because we're very aware that they do have a tool to shut down debate. And what's interesting is other Republican senators have actually filibustered more than Democrats this year. I don't know if that's the case after this really long filibuster, but Republican senators had been using the filibuster to basically attack other Republican senators.

And it's not unlike what we see in DC where some GOP senators were calling other GOP senators RINOs because they weren't taking hardline positions; they weren't being really aggressive in their attacks. So Republicans have really used the filibuster more than Democrats, and we just wanted to be respectful of the process and didn't want to antagonize anyone so that they might consider voting in favor of that motion that would shut down debate and force a vote on the worst version of this resolution.

Beard: Now, the Republicans that a lot of people are familiar with are these very aggressive Republicans that are eager to steamroll any and all opposition using any tool available. So it seems a little surprising that Republicans in the Missouri state Senate aren't just eager to use this motion that you just mentioned. Can you talk a little bit about the hesitancy from them on using it and why they haven't just gone full bore?

Arthur: Because of that division within the Republican Party, some Republicans have had a really hard time passing legislation and not even for Republican priorities. They've had a difficult time passing just basic governance kinds of bills. So for example, last week, the Senate debated the budget, and if not for Democratic votes, Missouri would not have a budget sent to the governor by the constitutional deadline.

So Democrats have been willing partners because we think that our state agencies should be funded. We know the importance of, for example, the renewal of something that is a self-imposed tax on hospitals so that they can fund our Medicaid program. As Democrats, we could have used all of those things as leverage, we could have teamed up with the guys who are trying to obstruct and cause chaos in the Senate and prevent any legislation from going forward. Democrats could have teamed up with that and made life very difficult for the Republicans and Senate leadership.

Instead, we believe in good governance. And if something is common sense, if something needs to get done for Missourians, Democrats have been good partners and we've negotiated in good faith on other legislation that might be a little bit more controversial. I think we have earned a little bit of goodwill. If they were to invoke that PQ or that nuclear option, everyone also understands that that's the end of the session, no other bills pass, and that it would have serious and long-lasting implications for the next session when the Democrats would come in and they would probably start from a very aggressive position.

Nir: That PQ, that's the motion for a previous question, but that only takes a simple majority in order to succeed. But what you're saying is this bitter division between these GOP factions, maybe, almost makes it impossible, despite the fact that they have, of course, a numerical majority to find a practical majority on the floor to call this previous question and shut off debate on the filibuster. They don't need a supermajority like in the US Senate, just the simple majority, but they still can't get it.

Arthur: That's correct. Yeah, exactly.

Nir: So as a result of all of this Democrats standing so strong and united together and taking shifts on filibusters throughout the night combined with really bitter GOP infighting and Republicans in disarray. On Wednesday afternoon, it sounds like you had a real breakthrough, a huge one, so tell us all about that.

Arthur: Yeah. I think there was pretty broad agreement and understanding that Senate Democrats were not going to back down and that there really was not a path forward to shut down the debate. And so the sponsor of the legislation made a motion to send this resolution to committee, or the House can recede from its position, which has all of that ballot candy, and make a determination going forward. There may be a conference committee where people meet and I don't think that the Democrats will, in any way, relent on that ballot candy issue. So if anything comes out of that committee, then we would expect it to be a clean bill.

Nir: And the legislative session ends at 6:00 PM local time on Friday, so there's a very limited clock for them to get this done.

Arthur: Yeah, that's correct. I should also mention the conference committee. We have Democrats and Republicans from the Senate, and then the House gets to assign its Republicans and Democrats as well to conference and hash out those details. But we are up against a hard deadline, 6:00 PM on Friday. There were... I mean, not unexpectedly… the really hardline Republicans were unhappy with this decision and they made that very clear and decried it on the floor. We will wait and see whether or not they're going to allow any other business to come before the body and whether or not we'll make it to 6:00 PM on Friday.

Beard: It seems like the two most likely outcomes here are either maybe nothing goes on the ballot or the clean version of the amendment goes onto the ballot, going back to this idea of the five of the eight congressional districts needing to pass any future amendments. So if that is on the ballot, you sounded like Democrats are going to campaign against it. How do you think it'll fare at the ballot box and what is the main campaign against it going to look like?

Arthur: Well, I think it will definitely be defeated and defeated resoundingly. There are so many people whose lives have been improved thanks to the initiative petition process and measures that Missouri voters have supported. And so I think they have a clear understanding of its importance and I don't think anyone wants their voices to count for less.

Like I said, I represent a purple district. We're talking about Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in my district, and I can't imagine a world in which any of them want their vote to count less than someone else's in a different part of the state. I think voters will get it and I also think that voters understand that this is a really cynical attempt to try to make it harder to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. There is a lot of movement and momentum to have that issue on the ballot in November. I think that they've collected, I don't know, two or three times more signatures than required in order to send that to voters. And I think this is a pretty brazen and obvious attempt to make it harder for people to make decisions about their bodies.

Nir: We have been talking with Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur of Missouri who just participated in a successful filibuster to get the GOP to back down from a diabolical plan to lard up a ballot measure with so-called ballot candy in order to entice voters to give up their rights to direct democracy. Lauren, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with us. Before we let you go, how can Downballot listeners learn more about your efforts in the state Senate in Missouri and also about the various ballot measures that may be on the ballot this fall?

Arthur: Well, thank you so much for highlighting these efforts. Thankfully, we have great local journalists who have been here throughout the 50 hours along with the rest of us. I'll give a shout-out to the Missouri Independent, St. Louis Public Radio, the Kansas City Star, and the people who have helped cover this issue locally. With the Senate Democrats here in Missouri, we're few but mighty, and we're hoping to grow our numbers in this next election.

Nir: Where can folks find you online on social media?

Arthur: You can find us on Twitter—old habits die hard—or X at MoSenDems. We have an Instagram page @mosenatedemocrats, Facebook is MOSenDems, and Threads @mosenatedemocrats, and you can find me on X @LaurenArthurMO.

Nir: Lauren, thank you again for coming on "The Downballot."

Arthur: It was my pleasure. Thank you again.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to state Sen. Lauren Arthur for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

Clearly bothered, Marco Rubio responds to Val Demings’ Senate run with insults and arrogance

After tweeting last month that she's "seriously considering" running for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, Rep. Val Demings, of Florida, confirmed on Wednesday that she's more than seriously considering it: she announced she's running. "I'm running for U.S. Senate because I will never tire of standing up for what is right," Demings said in a tweet. "Never tire of serving Florida. Never tire of doing good.”

In a 2 minute and 58 second campaign video, Demings said when asked where she got her "tireless faith that things can always get better," she got it in Jacksonville, Florida. "When you grow up in the South, poor, black, and female, you have to have faith in progress and opportunity," Demings said. “My father was a janitor, and my mother was a maid. She said, ‘Val, never grow tired of doing good. Never tire. Work hard, not just for yourself but for others.’”

I'm running for U.S. Senate because I will never tire of standing up for what is right. Never tire of serving Florida. Never tire of doing good. Join my campaign today:

— Val Demings (@valdemings) June 9, 2021

Demings, a former Orlando police chief and the first woman to hold the title, was a House manager in former President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, and she has been an important voice in seeking accountability for his embarrassing response to the coronavirus pandemic. Rubio voted to protect Trump in the face of his second impeachment trial for inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol in January. A month earlier, the Florida Republican helped himself to a COVID-19 vaccination in short supply in his state at the time. 

He responded to Demings’ campaign announcement with the predictable arrogance and insults of a Florida Republican. “Look, I’ve always known that my opponent for the Senate was gonna be a far-left, liberal Democrat. Today, we just found out which one of them Chuck Schumer’s picked,” Rubio said in a video shared Wednesday on Twitter. “I’m looking forward to this campaign because it’s going to offer the people of Florida a very clear difference.”

No matter who wins the democratic Senate primary in #Florida my opponent will be a far left extremist#Sayfie #flpol

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 9, 2021

Rubio went on to call Demings a “do nothing House member with not a single significant legislative achievement in her time in Congress.” “By comparison one nonpartisan group ranked me the most effective Republican in the entire Senate,” Rubio said. He is referring to a ranking released by the Center for Effective Lawmaking in March that based his ranking on “107 bills he put forward, ten of which passed the Senate, and six of which became law” under the 116th Congress. Let’s not forget, the senator had a majority-Republican Senate working in his favor.

Federal voting rights legislation top of Democrats' agenda is being held up in the Senate by a filibuster requiring 60 votes instead of a simple majority for a vote on proposed legislation. The filibuster has been used as a partisan weapon for decades,” Demings told the Orlando Sentinel. “We were not elected to be obstructionists. … We were elected to get things done. And when we talk about protecting some of the most basic rights in this country, the filibuster blocks those things, and we need to get rid of it.”

But beyond the filibuster, the more important question with regards to Rubio’s legislative record boasted as effective is: Does an effective Republican equate to what’s best for most Floridians? The answer to that is a clear no. 

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation on "disruptive protests" that could put protesters in jail for up to 15 years if police determine at least nine people took part in a riot. “Under this bill, peaceful protesters could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony for ‘committing a riot’ even if they did not engage in any disorderly and violent conduct,” the ACLU of Florida said in a news release. “It would also prohibit local governments from determining how to allocate funding for police reform to address critical needs in their local communities and seek to protect counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester.” 

State legislators also passed a bill requiring voters to submit requests each election cycle to vote by mail."It would require voters to submit vote-by-mail requests each election cycle, restrict secure vote-by-mail drop boxes, and demand sensitive personal information from voters requesting a mail ballot,” the ACLU of Florida wrote in a news release. “Like the law recently passed in Georgia, this bill also criminalizes people who provide food or water to Floridians waiting in line to vote.”

Rubio has done nothing to enact the kind of federal legislation that would combat state-level voter suppression or anti-protest measures. “Marco Rubio voted against stimulus checks, he voted against COVID relief for our schools and our small businesses,” Demings said in the Orlando Sentinel. “And he voted against helping those on the frontlines, our first responders or teachers, our health care workers.” 

RELATED: Val Demings says she's 'seriously considering' running against Marco Rubio

RELATED: Florida governor rebrands bill to silence Black Lives Matter as response to Capitol riot

Republicans sink to new, amoral lows this week on everything that matters

Let's check in on this week in congressional Republicans, just a kind of check up to see how that revered institution of Joe Manchin's is doing vis-a-vis the GOP.

On Tuesday, the House passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, intended to address the rise of hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander people during the pandemic. It directs the Department of Justice to facilitate the expedited review of hate crimes and reports of hate crimes and work with state, local, and tribal law enforcement to establish reporting and data collection procedures on hate crimes. There were 62 Republican "no" votes on that bill. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, said he voted against it because he didn't think it would work. "We can't legislate away hate," Roy said. Maybe that's why he's pro-hate of LGBTQ people.

In a related measure, 180 House Republicans refused to join Democrats in "Condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, 2021, and reaffirming the House of Representative’s commitment to combating hate, bigotry, and violence against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community." That was on Wednesday. "Some Republicans took issue with the resolution's mention of the coronavirus nicknames, and GOP leaders urged members to oppose it, according to a GOP source," reports Forbes. "Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) said in a floor speech she had 'hoped' to support it but that it's 'just another vehicle for delivering cheap shots against our former president.'"

Speaking of seditionists, 175 of them voted against the bipartisan national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Among those voting against the commission was Rep. Greg Pence. He's the Republican brother of former Vice President Mike Pence. Who the mob on Jan. 6 had come to the Capitol to kill. They put up a noose and everything.

Greg Pence said that his brother was a "hero" for doing his job of coming back to certify the election after the attack. This Pence voted to overturn the election results that night. This Pence is more beholden to Trump than his own brother. "I think the whole thing is to spend the summer impeaching, again, Donald Trump," he told HuffPost. "That's all we're doing. It's a dog-and-pony show. … It's another impeachment." That's also a hell of an admission about what happened on Jan. 6, that it was all at the instigation of Trump.

While we're talking Jan. 6, check this out:

Kevin McCarthy doesn't answer a question about whether he's absolutely sure that no House Republicans communicated with January 6 insurrectionists

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 20, 2021

That's House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, refusing to answer whether he knows for certain that no House Republican was in contact with the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

While we're on the subject of seditionists, there’s Sen. Ron Johnson. On Thursday, the dumbest man in the Senate claimed that he was conducting his own investigation into Jan. 6. "I'm doing my own investigation to really accurately recreate what happened on January 6th but Nancy Pelosi's commission is not going to dig into this in any bipartisan fashion," the vacuous, dangerous idiot said on Fox News. "She gets to pick all of the staff members. This is a joke and should be voted down." That is not true. The House Republican who helped write the bill creating the commission says so. "The commission creates the rules as a team. They then hire as a team." Like facts are going to stop Johnson.

He says he "talked to people that were there," which suggests that Johnson is among those who needs to be subpoenaed about the events of that day. Anyway, he talked to them and they all said that nothing we saw in front of our very eyes that day happened. "By and large it was peaceful protests except for there were a number of people, basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol, and that's really the truth of what's happening here," Johnson said. Yeah. Agitators. Undoubtedly antifa and BLM. "This is all about a narrative that the left wants to continue to push and Republicans should not cooperate with them at all."

He just won't shut up. "The fact of the matter is even calling it insurrection—it wasn’t," Johnson insists. “I condemned the breach, I condemn the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol intent on overthrowing the government is just simply a false narrative."

The thing is, he's fundamentally speaking for the majority of the Senate Republicans. Starting at the top. Before the House voted Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced that he will oppose the commission. Not one Republican senator, not even Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, has said they will vote for the commission. She sidestepped the question from reporters multiple times, but did say that "if" it happens, Trump should have to testify. Utah's Mitt Romney also avoided answering the question, but said that if it happens it needs to be limited in scope, that the "key thing that needs to be associated with this effort would be the attack on this building."

The reality is, Trump still owns the vast majority of Republicans. He is definitely calling the shots. Even with McConnell, who keeps pointing to the words he mouthed in defending his vote to acquit Trump for the crime of inciting the insurrection, but caved to pressure from Trump to oppose the commission.

This is what the Democrats who oppose filibuster reform—Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Tom Carper (he's been quieter about it)—are enabling. They're refusing to cut McConnell and Johnson and all the others who are afraid to buck Trump out of the process of governing. Which means they're effectively letting McConnell and crew call the shots.

If they're not stopped, they will use their violent, amoral insurrection to steal the vote in 2022 and 2024, and make absolutely sure that Democrats never win the House, Senate, or White House again.

McConnell and Republicans can only sweep away the Jan.6 insurrection with Manchin’s help

Generations of senators who came before us put their heads down and their pride aside to solve the complex issues facing our country. We must do the same. The issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together.

That's Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat arguing in a Washington Post op-ed that the filibuster must be preserved because ... reasons. Those reasons being something about how senators are better than everyone else and know better than anyone else and how dare any lesser being question that. I might be exaggerating a bit. But not much.

Manchin expanded on those deep thoughts the next day, on CNN. "January 6 changed me," Manchin said. "I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked, at our seat of government, which is Washington, D.C., at our Capitol, by our own people." Gosh, life-changing stuff. It must have really made him focus on how to secure our fragile democracy.

So after experiencing that life-changing day, when that institution he so reveres was attacked, and sharing it with those Republican colleagues he says are worthy of so much trust and respect, what must he think now that they're all lining up to oppose the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who absolutely controls his conference, officially trashed the bill Wednesday, effectively killing it in the Senate. As long as the filibuster stands, anyway.

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"After careful consideration," (yeah, right) "I've made the decision to oppose the House Democrats slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January 6th. As everybody surely knows, I repeatedly made my views about the events of January 6th very clear. I spoke clearly and left no doubt about my conclusions," McConnell said Wednesday morning. Never mind that McConnell's remarks on Jan. 6 came when he was defending his refusal to hold Donald Trump accountable for instigating the attack by voting to convict him in an impeachment.

And never mind that the agreement reached between House Homeland Security leaders Democrat Benny Thompson and Republican John Katko is scrupulously bipartisan—to a fault, considering how much leeway it gives McConnell and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sabotage it.

Even with that, McConnell has decided to kill the commission directly. Not just McConnell, either. Look at supposedly moderate Republican Sen. Rob Portman. "We have plenty of resources," he said Wednesday. "We had all of our investigative staff involved in both committees. They’re all cleared and up to speed… it’s faster to do something in Congress than to set up a commission where you have to get the staff hired and get them their clearances."

What about Manchin's great "moderate" friend, Sen. Susan Collins? She told reporters that she might deign to vote for it, provided that it has an artificial end date before the 2022 election year. That would give ample opportunity for McConnell and McCarthy, should it actually pass (which it won't), to drag their feet on naming commission members and ensuring that it can't even get to work before fall. They really don't want this to happen. They really don't want accountability.

They don't want to keep this from happening again.

So back to Manchin and what happened on Jan. 6 and what has happened since. Here's how it "changed" him, he wrote in that op-ed. "Our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected." By not passing S. 1, the bill that would ensure every American's access to the ballot and ensure that elections are held with the highest degree of transparency and security possible. That's because he thinks the people spouting the Big Lie should be listened to, catered to.

Manchin is insisting that the rights of the rioters, the insurrectionists, and the seditionists receive equal deference to the rights of law-abiding American citizens whose votes the seditionists were trying to nullify. Seditionists who stormed the Capitol, threatening the life of then-Vice President Mike Pence and any member of Congress who crossed their path that day.

Now Republicans who aren't actively trying to rewrite the history of that day are trying to cover up what led to that day and what happened on that day, and trying to prevent a reckoning. They'll be able to do so. Joe Manchin, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for that matter, are granting them that ability by refusing to end the filibuster.

Five Questions Joe Biden Must Be Asked At His First Press Conference – But Probably Won’t

President Biden is expected to hold his first formal press conference on Thursday, over two months since his inauguration.

His effort in hiding from the media broke a 100-year record, leaving journalists with a healthy pool of topics with which to discuss.

Here are five questions that the President must be asked during today’s press conference:

Is There A Crisis At The Border?

The border crisis may be the only guarantee on the list to be addressed by reporters. The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has become nothing short of a disaster and can’t be ignored – even by a normally compliant lapdog media.

Will reporters demand President Biden define the situation as a crisis, though? That remains to be seen.

The Biden administration has been reluctant to use the word “crisis” to define the debacle of their own making.

Still, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has admitted the current situation leaves the United States on pace to see the most migrants breaching the border “in the last 20 years” while Mexican officials have argued the Biden administration has created a “boom time for (drug) cartels.”

But he must admit what is happening is a crisis.

As Senator Lindsey Graham says, “It’s pretty hard to fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is.”

When Will You Be Raising Taxes?

Perhaps there are more glamorous questions on this list, but Americans – and readers of The Political Insider – who are struggling during the pandemic economy may be most interested in knowing if taxes will be raised on them or their employers, and how it might affect them and their families.

Barron’s reports that “Biden’s tax policy could bring the corporate tax rate as high as 28%, from the current 21%.”

And reporters at the press conference may want to ask the President about a campaign pledge saying, “If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.”

That claim has already been called into question, however.

Americans will most likely want to know why and how taxes are going to be raised during a pandemic, especially when the President recently claimed his $1.9 trillion “relief bill” and direct payments were what people struggling needed.

Do You Support Nancy Pelosi’s Effort To Overturn A State-Certified Election?

This should be a piece of cake for the media – especially considering how they lambasted Donald Trump for not accepting election results over the past five months.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in discussing the state-certified victory of Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), who defeated Democrat Rita Hart by six votes in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, is currently pushing an effort to overturn the election.

Fox News reporter Chad Pergram asked Pelosi if she “could … see a scenario … of unseating the current member and seating Rita Hart?”

“We’ll see where that takes us,” she replied. “There could be a scenario to that extent.”

Biden must be asked if he accepts the results of a certified election or if he, like Pelosi, supports overruling a bipartisan commission on this particular race.

The hypocrisy that might be revealed would be staggering.

Do You Support Abolishing The Filibuster?

Axios recently reported that President Biden, according to sources close to him, is “fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party.”

The filibuster is designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill. Ending debate requires the agreement of three-fifths (60) of Senators, or in today’s Congressional makeup – 10 Republicans would have to join the majority party.

This is a crucial topic as the Democrats’ push to pass the voting rights bill H.R. 1, which is a major overhaul of election law.

“It is a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) explains. “It speaks volumes that this is HR 1 and S1, that the number 1 priority of Democrats is … keeping Democrats in power for 100 years.”

The American people need to know if the man they just voted into office supports such a brazen power grab.

Do You Still Feel Andrew Cuomo Is The ‘Gold Standard’ Of Leadership?

President Biden has spent weeks now tiptoeing around the many scandals surrounding Andrew Cuomo.

One way to get him on record would be for reporters to ask him about his own words in describing the New York Governor.

“Andrew Cuomo, thank you for your leadership and the example you’ve set for all Americans during this pandemic,” Biden tweeted in August.

POLL: Will the media ask Biden ANY hard questions, or give him a total pass?

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During an appearance on The Jimmy Fallon Show in April, months earlier, Biden suggested Cuomo had “done one hell of a job” and “I think he’s the gold standard.”

Biden’s White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, has been asked the question, but Biden himself must commit.

The former “gold standard” is now embroiled in:

  • A nursing home scandal, in which his executive order forced facilities to take in COVID-positive patients.
  • Administration officials admitting they hid those numbers from the DOJ.
  • Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including a groping claim that has been referred to police.
  • Claims of bullying and verbal abuse by fellow lawmakers and media members.
  • The latest scandal involves Cuomo directing health officials to prioritize testing for his family in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

What They’ll Really Ask Biden At The Press Conference

Even if the White House press pool decides to ask President Biden about any of these topics, there is little doubt they will frame the queries in a friendly manner.

There will be few combative moments that became a routine part of the press conferences with former President Donald Trump.

In fact, you’re more likely to see questions about cats and ice cream than you are the above matters.

Americans deserve better than this. Will the press conference provide that?

We shall see.


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Republicans just proved it: If the filibuster doesn’t end, we cannot restore our democracy

The founding fathers, chafing under the malign thumb of Britain's monarchy, most definitely envisioned the potential for a Donald Trump. Alexander Hamilton pretty much nailed Trump in 1792: "When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"

Thus we have the tool of impeachment and the checks and balances of a legislative, executive, and judicial system. What the founders apparently didn't account for in their careful crafting of the three branches was a Mitch McConnell, a lawmaker so unprincipled that he would enter into a bargain with Trump to enhance his personal power at the expense of the whole Senate, and use that power to subvert the third branch—the judiciary. The reasonable "cooling saucer" of the Senate created to counterbalance the rabble in the House of Representatives wasn't supposed to become a tool of the corrupt, but here we are—and not for the first time. There's a throughline in all of American history for the fight against majority rule democracy: white supremacy. Every sustained backlash against progress has come from privileged whites. We saw its violent and very public resurgence in Trumpism, a storm Republicans have been happy to ride. There are myriad reforms the country has to undertake to beat that back down again, but it has to start now and in the Senate, with the filibuster.

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The vehicle for that is singular: H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2021, and its companion in the Senate, S.1. The House bill, first passed in 2019 and subsequently ignored by McConnell, would enact substantial and groundbreaking electoral reforms. It would remove existing barriers to voting, secure the elections processes to secure the integrity of the vote, expand public financing to fight the pernicious entrenched and monied interests, and ban congressional gerrymandering to ensure equal and fair representation in the House of Representatives. It would also start to chip away at the imbalance of representation in the Senate—where states like Wyoming have a fraction of the population of the nation's largest cities—by granting statehood to the District of Columbia.

That bill is not going to pass the Senate if the filibuster holds, nor is any of President Joe Biden's agenda. Senate Republicans made that abundantly clear from Biden's first day in office, and even before. When the Senate flipped into Democratic hands on Jan. 5 with the runoff results in Georgia, McConnell started in, refusing to bring the Senate out of recess until Jan. 19. (That also built in his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment—he could say then, duplicitously, that a former president couldn't be convicted.) McConnell then spent three weeks refusing to allow Biden to form a complete Cabinet by blocking an organizing resolution for the Senate, the necessary piece of business for all of the committees assignments be made and the committees to start serious business, like considering legislation referred to them and processing Biden's nominees.

McConnell—with the tacit support of 49 Republican senators—insisted that this was all in the name of "unity," just like Biden wanted. His stance was that Democrats had to prove that they wanted unity by capitulating to his demand that they promise not to get rid of the filibuster and let him continue to block Biden's agenda and his nominees. To Schumer's credit, he didn't get that. To Joe Manchin's and Kyrsten Sinema's discredit, they agreed with McConnell. Sinema, in fact, has continued to do so.

Sinema is insisting that she'll oppose a minimum wage increase in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats are pushing through using budget reconciliation, a limited tool that isn't subject to the 60-vote majority rule and thus can't be filibustered. More than that, Sinema says: "I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate's work." That would mean handing a veto of every Biden nominee—including potentially to the Supreme Court—to McConnell.

Sinema is undoubtedly trying to hedge her bets just in case Republicans retake the Senate in 2022, trying to worm her way into their good graces. As if McConnell and team would reward a Democrat for anything. As if it wasn't a betrayal of her own constituents, who support a minimum wage increase. As if it wasn't a betrayal of the LBGTQ community in which Sinema claims membership. She's expressed her willingness to help Republicans filibuster the Equality Act, which bans discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. She's saying that she'll reimpose the 60-vote threshold to block Biden's pro-equality judges after Trump appointed so many anti-equality judges, needing just 51 votes.

She somehow believes that this can be put in the hands of Senate Republicans, only seven of whom voted to convict the guy who incited and directed an insurrection against them, a mob that was primed quite literally for their blood—and very nearly got it.  So, sure, these will be the people who will provide the 10 votes necessary to help Biden save the nation from COVID-19, provide health care to everyone in the aftermath of this pandemic, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform to help border states like Arizona.

Which takes us back to the For the People Act. The events of Jan. 6 and the Senate Republicans' acquittal of Trump underline just how critical it is that Democrats respond forcefully and quickly to stamp down the radicalized Republican Party, to end its ability to maintain outsized power while representing the minority of the nation's population. It means, particularly for the likes of Manchin and Sinema, realizing that the Republicans they pal around with everyday are not their friends. That they would perhaps lament their deaths at the hands of a violent mob, but aren't going to act to prevent it from happening. It means ending the filibuster.

The For the People Act is the vehicle to use to do just that, because it would level the playing field for Democrats. More than that, it would allow for actual majority rule—for the majority of voters to have their will enacted. To have universal accessible and affordable health care. To have an economic system that's not weighted against them. To not have their families living in fear of separation. To have a government taking on the changes in the climate that threaten to make living in their home regions impossible.

None of that happens without a profound change in our electoral system, and H.R.1/S.1 would start that process. It's also where to dare Sinema and Manchin to thwart the will of the majorities who elected them, to dare them to stand with the white supremacist Republican Party that is fighting to keep whole communities of color disenfranchised.

Republicans still fighting results of 2020 election, refusing to allow Democratic Senate to organize

It's now February and nearly a full month since the Jan. 5 election in Georgia that flipped the Senate to Democrats. At least nominally—the body is split 50-50 and the weight goes to Democrats because they can bring in Vice President Kamala Harris as necessary, so they've got the majority. But the Senate still hasn't passed the organizing resolution to finalize all that and, critically, hand the keys of the committees over to the Democrats.

Why? Sen. Dick Durbin says it’s Sen. Mitch McConnell. "He's the key to it," Durbin told CNN's Manu Raju after an infuriating exchange of tweets and letters Durbin has had with the abhorrent Lindsey Graham, who is the pretender in the Judiciary Committee chair. Technically, the committee doesn't have a chair. The committee doesn't have members, not until the organizing resolution passes. But habit is keeping the gavel in Graham's hand, and he's refusing to schedule a hearing for President Biden's nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland. Durbin went public with his frustration Monday afternoon tweeting out a plea and a letter to Graham to schedule the damned confirmation hearing on Feb. 8.

To which Graham replied in his typical pissy, hypocritical way. In other words, no, he's not going to extend even a bit of consideration or courtesy, and he's going to be a condescending and patronizing ass in "explaining" why. "Your request is highly unusual," he says. Then he blames it on impeachment and goes through three paragraphs of lecture about committee procedure. Which Durbin knows. Well.

The committee has reams of background material on Garland and has had it since 2016, the last time Republicans were assholes about this particular—completely qualified and non-controversial—nominee, that time for the even more important job on the Supreme Court. 

This might be McConnell and team exacting revenge for their embarrassing loss in filibustering the organizing resolution to keep the filibuster. They're dragging this out as long as they can, though talks among staff have reportedly been "productive." Soon, aides say, maybe as soon as Tuesday. But no one is giving a deadline.

At this point, Biden should just start threatening to name all his nominees who haven't yet had hearings "acting" directors and Schumer should try to force them onto the floor without committee hearings. It would take unanimous consent, but it would also highlight the fact that Republicans are still fighting the results of the 2020 election by refusing to allow Biden to complete his government and the Senate to fully function.

This week on The Brief: Impeachment round two, more COVID-19 relief, ending the filibuster

This week, hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld were joined on The Brief by two guests: Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who talked about the attempted terrorist coup at the Capitol, another economic stimulus package for coronavirus relief, and priorities under the Biden administration; and Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff to former Sen. Harry Reid and author of the new book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate,” who shared his thoughts on the shifting makeup of the Senate, the emergence of a new centrist Republican contingent in Congress, and ending the filibuster.

Sen. Schatz kicked off the episode by reflecting on last week’s attempted violent coup by Trump supporters and discussing what’s at stake as Democrats move forward with impeachment proceedings and welcome Joe Biden as the new president. In the aftermath of last week’s violence in the Capitol, Schatz emerged with an even stronger resolve to ensure that democratic processes would continue as normal in the face of threats and other acts of intimidation, saying, “We weren’t going to allow an attempted insurrection to intimidate us or to prevent us from discharging our constitutional duties.”

On priorities, Schatz is passionate about climate action, but he believes a COVID-19 relief package is the most crucial priority at this time—which is especially important for the millions of Americans who are jobless and struggling to make ends meet. He also believes that it is not contradictory for Congress to work on impeachment and also help the Biden administration carry out its policy goals within the first few months of his presidency:

I guess I just want to reject as publicly as I can this premise that the Senate can or should only do one thing at a time. The amount of damage that has been done to American institutions, and to Americans, is just too vast for to say, ‘Well, I mean, can we just fit that into a reconciliation bill? I don’t know.’ And the framing, even among liberals, has always been sort of that Rahm Emanuel conversation with Barack Obama: Do you want to do healthcare, or do you want to do immigration, or do you want to do climate, and in what order, because you know, you’ve only have so much political capital you can spend? … I really do think that we should reject that thinking.

In thinking about the impeachment process and passing legislation during the next four years under the Biden administration, Schatz also criticized another roadblock that has been normalized, which is the slow pace of passing legislation — making Congress less efficient: “Our inability to process legislation quickly is a huge part of the problem in the United State Senate.”

Next, the pair welcomed Jentleson onto the show, a veteran U.S. Senate staffer who weighed in on what the new chamber dynamic will like be now that Democrats have regained the majority after last week’s victories in the Georgia runoffs. But even with the majority, Democrats could find themselves obstructed due to the filibuster. To Markos’ question about whether or not Republicans might join in to help bring an end to the filibuster, Jentleson said:

You can sort of see this centrist party taking shape before our eyes, and mainly taking shape in the Senate, where you have Murkowski, Collins … Romney, and on our side, Manchin and King, and the thing about majority rule is that it would actually dramatically empower that group of centrist Republicans. That’s, you know, not my goal here. But it is still a fact that in a majority-rule Senate, those people, like Murkowski, are far more powerful than they would be in a sixty-vote Senate. In a sixty-vote Senate, they’re just one faction among many that you’d have to assemble to get to sixty. In a majority-vote Senate, they are the ones straddling that threshold, and they’ll be the kingmakers on every single bill.

When a minority of the Senate represents as little as 11% of the U.S. population, Jentleson emphasized, the filibuster process can result in particularly skewed policy results. Even the framers of the Constitution understood this:

Fundamentally, the problem that we face, and the reason Democrats are going to face obstruction from Republicans—and the reason that Biden’s agenda is likely to be blocked—is that Republicans will simply use this power to force a sixty-vote hurdle and block everything the Democrats want to do. And so reforming all the hours, and all that stuff, I don’t oppose it. But it doesn’t fix the fundamental problem—which is taking away the power from the minority to block the majority from doing anything … The reason that is such an important dynamic is that we live in such a polarized environment where … once side succeeds by making the other fail.

Ironically, this is exactly what the framers foresaw when they argued vehemently against imposing a supermajority threshold in the Senate. They wrote in the Federalist Papers that you can’t give what they called a ‘pertinacious minority’ the ability to block the majority, because if you did, they would be unable to resist that temptation, and they would use it to embarrass the majority repeatedly. So they knew exactly what was going to happen—they foresaw Mitch McConnell, they saw him coming … We have to take the option away from the minority to just block the majority for the purposes of making them look bad, and then the minority rides voter discontent back to power in the next election.

You can watch the full episode below:

Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) talks to Daily Kos, live today on The Brief

My YouTube show The Brief, co-hosted with Kerry Eleveld, airs every Tuesday, 1:30PT/4:30ET. Today we’re going to go deep into the Senate with the help of two amazing guests: U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Adam Jentleson, former top aide to Harry Reid and author of his new book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.” 

We might have some things to talk about, like the brand new Democratic Senate majority  in the wake of the Georgia runoff elections, the insurrection at the Capitol, the looming impeachment trial, and the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s 100-day agenda with our narrow 50-50 majority and the destructive filibuster (which is the topic of Jentleson’s book). 

The show is also expanding into a podcast as well. Links to all the relevant podcasting platforms are being finalized and I’ll share those as soon as we get inclusion. 

Drop any questions you might have for Sen. Schatz or Jentleson in the comments below!