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.