OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Vice President Kamala Harris used an interview with NBC News on Wednesday as an opportunity to bash two Democratic senators over their refusal to go along with ditching the filibuster rule to pass a federal voting reform bill Republicans universally oppose in the 50-50 chamber.
In addition to attacking Republicans, Harris suggested that Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were somehow violating their oaths of office to protect and defend the Constitution by opposed the filibuster rule change to pass the misnamed “For the People Act,” a massive voting reform bill Republicans have blasted as an attempt to federalize all elections.
“I will not absolve the 50 Republicans in the United States Senate from responsibility, from upholding one of the most basic tenants of our democracy which is free and fair elections and access to the ballot for all eligible voters,” Harris said.
The veep was then asked host Craig Melvin what message she has for Sinema and Manchin, but she gave the same response.
“I don’t think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy especially when they took an oath to protect our Constitution,” Harris said.
Both Manchin and Sinema have expressed support for aspects of the voting reform legislation, but their biggest peeve is their party’s push to scrap a century-old procedural rule that transformed the upper chamber of Congress into one of the world’s most deliberative bodies.
In a statement Thursday, Sinema reiterated her opposition to changing the rule, suggesting, again, that if Democrats can do so now with a thin majority, Republicans can — and would — do so when they have one.
“There’s no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role in protecting our country from wild reversals of federal policy,” Sinema said.
“This week’s harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year,” she added.
Top Democrats including President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have all been pressuring Manchin and Sinema to change their minds and back a one-time rule change to pass the voting measure.
In a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday, Obama turned to a familiar set of talking points — racism — to stump for the rule change, claiming filibusters were used by Southern senators to thwart civil rights legislation that disenfranchised black citizens, and that the filibuster “has no basis in the Constitution.”
“I fully support President Joe Biden’s call to modify Senate rules as necessary to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote,” Obama wrote. “In recent years, the filibuster became a routine way for the Senate minority to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters. But we can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy.”
As a U.S. senator, however, Obama sang a different tune.
In 2005, he gave a floor speech defending the ‘racist’ filibuster when majority Republicans in the Senate eyed doing away with it.
“If the majority chooses to end the filibuster if they choose to change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse,” he said.
Sen. Barack Obama in 2005 vigorously defending the filibuster, which he now decries as a “Jim Crow relic:” pic.twitter.com/ha6OrW2vzK
— Christian Schneider (@Schneider_CM) March 25, 2021
He also argued that ending the filibuster would “change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”
As for Republicans, they argue that the Democrat voting bill will eliminate state-passed measures that provide for better ballot integrity such as voter ID, cleaning up voter registration rolls (which is already a federal requirement under the ‘motor-voter’ law Bill Clinton signed), and limit mail-in balloting, among other things.