The Bipartisanship Charade is Almost Over

If only six Republican senators will support a bipartisan January 6 commission, while one Republican Congressperson openly calls for new violence and another trivializes the Holocaust, what hope is there for reasonable compromise on anything?

Friday, the Senate voted on the filibuster of a bill (already passed by the House) that would authorize a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 riot. Thirty-five senators voted to continue the filibuster, while 54 voted to end it.

That means it continued and the bill was blocked. By the rules of the Senate, the 35 outvoted the 54.

That’s how the Senate works, or rather, doesn’t work. If some senator wants to prevent a bill to come to a vote, it takes 60 senators to break that filibuster. Even though 54 is 61% of the 89 senators voting; 54 isn’t 60, so the 1-6 commission is blocked indefinitely.

That raises the whole end-the-filibuster discussion, which we’ll get to further down the page. But it’s important not to jump over the even more outrageous part of this story: Given that both American democracy and their own safety was endangered, how could 35 Republican senators possibly oppose an investigation of the storming of the Capitol?

What happened. On January 6, rioters tore down barricades, assaulted police, broke into the Capitol itself, and forced the temporary adjournment of a joint session of Congress that is mandated by the Constitution: Once every four years, the House and Senate meet together to count the electoral votes and officially announce the winner of the presidential election.

That joint session is arguably the most sacred, most essential ceremony of American democracy. It lies at the heart of our most prized tradition: the peaceful transfer of power from one leader to the next, in accordance with the will of the People, as expressed (imperfectly) by the Electoral College. Congress has carried out this duty in an uninterrupted sequence going back to the certification of George Washington’s election on April 6, 1789.

That’s what the rioters were trying to stop. They chanted “Hang Mike Pence”, invaded the chambers of the Senate, and broke into offices looking for members of Congress, hoping to disrupt the transfer of power so that the loser of the election, Donald Trump, could remain president.

They failed. In the end, the certification process was delayed by about six hours, but it reached a conclusion and Joe Biden’s victory was officially recognized.

What could have happened. Despite all the things that went wrong on that day, it’s easy to imagine how January 6 could have gone worse if the rioters had been luckier or better organized, or if Congress had been slower to react. Rioters (some of whom brought zip-ties) might have captured Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, or other key figures, leading to a hostage situation. Who can say how President Trump might have responded to that chaos? If the stand-off had continued past January 20, when Trump’s term expired, the United States would have reached a constitutional crisis unforeseen by the Founders.

Questions that need answers. The rioters themselves are being handled by the justice system, as is appropriate. Courts and juries will decide who broke in and what laws they violated. But the crimes of rioters are not the only things that need investigation. We also need to answer questions like these:

  • Why was the Capitol so poorly defended? What needs to be changed to prevent similar security failures in the future?
  • Did the riot have a larger structure? In other words, did a mob simply get out of hand? Or was there a plan? If it was planned, who planned it?
  • Were the rioters simply the Trump supporters they appeared to be? Or were they egged on by anti-Trump provocateurs, as many Republicans believe?
  • How well did the various security forces — Capitol police, D.C. police, National Guard — perform? Are the procedures for coordinating their efforts adequate?
  • Did members of Congress help the rioters prepare, say, by giving them “reconnaissance tours” of the Capitol, as many Democrats believe?
  • What was President Trump’s role? Did he intend the protests to turn violent? Did he respond appropriately once the violence started?

Some of these questions will come up in investigations that lead to prosecutions, but a court is not the right place to answer them. Maybe, for example, the larger plan behind the riot will never be nailed down well enough that particular people can be prosecuted for it. If that turns out to be the case, no one will be indicted and the public might never learn — at least not through the justice system — whatever evidence points in that direction.

Ditto for Trump’s culpability. It’s possible that prosecutors will decide they can’t make incitement-to-riot or conspiracy charges stick, so his behavior will never be described in an indictment. But he seems to be angling to run for president again, so shouldn’t the public learn as much as possible about whether he tried to overthrow democracy during his first term?

In short, somebody should write a report that tells the whole story, from beginning to end, and from all points of view. Ideally, that report would be trusted by the great majority of Americans, rather than leaving the whole affair in a he-said/she-said state.

The commission proposal. With that in mind, the investigating body should be widely respected, have full investigatory powers, and rise above partisan bias. No way of setting up such an investigation is perfect, but the bipartisan commission is the best model we have. That’s how we handled 9-11, and it seemed to work pretty well.

This particular implementation of the 9-11 model was negotiated between the leading members of each party in the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson for the Democrats and John Katko for the Republicans. Democrats did not use their majority-party status to drive a hard bargain: Each party appoints five members of the 10-person commission. Speaker Pelosi appoints the chair and Minority Leader McCarthy the vice-chair, but there is little the chair can do unilaterally.

Rep. Katko thought he had done a good job of achieving McCarthy’s goals. “I encourage all members, Republicans and Democrats alike,” he said, “to put down their swords for once, just for once, and support this bill.”

But Trump didn’t like the proposal, so McCarthy opposed it. So did Mitch McConnell in the Senate. And that’s how we got here.

Trump’s motive. It’s important to understand what Trump gains by blocking the commission. He isn’t preventing an investigation, because Democrats can set up a select committee in the same way that Republicans did after the first nine investigations of Benghazi failed to find evidence for their conspiracy theories. That’s just one of the options, but Democrats will certainly investigate somehow.

So all that Trump is preventing is a bipartisan investigation. Whatever the select committee comes up with, he can brand a “partisan witch hunt”. The Trump Insurrection will continue to be a he-said/she-said thing, without any common truth both parties agree on.

That’s bad for democracy and for America, but apparently it’s good for Trump.

One thing this tells us, though, is that neither Trump nor any other Republican in Congress really believes the antifa-did-it theory that they occasionally promote, and that nearly 3/4ths of Republicans claim to believe. If there were any chance of uncovering an antifa conspiracy, Republicans would begging for a bipartisan commission to expose it.

Bipartisanship? Let’s sum up: A proposal that should be a slam dunk, that should get 35-40 Republican votes in the Senate, instead got only six. One of the Republicans who left town early to start his Memorial Day weekend, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, says he would have voted for it, bringing the total to seven. So if all 100 senators had stayed in town and all 50 Democrats voted to establish the commission, it would still have been three votes short of breaking the filibuster.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the obvious:

We just can’t pretend that nothing bad happened or that people just got too excited. Something bad happened. And it’s important to lay that out. I think there’s more to be learned. I want to know and I don’t want to know … but I need to. And I think it’s important to the country that there be an independent evaluation.

The commission filibuster is ominous for two reasons:

  • A lot of important legislation has been working through the legislative process and is due for a Senate vote soon.
  • The GOP is tolerating (and sometimes promoting) increasingly crazy rhetoric.

The Joe Manchin theory that Republicans can be sane negotiating partners, and that compromises can be reached that will be good for the country, is looking increasingly unlikely.

What’s on the docket. President Biden’s honeymoon of popularity with the voters is based on two accomplishments:

  • The wave of executive orders that he issued shortly after he took office.
  • The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (i.e., Covid relief) that Congress passed and Biden signed on March 11.

Together with his administration’s good management of the vaccination effort, and the optimism about the end of the pandemic that has accompanied that success, Biden has successfully projected an image of a president who takes action and does the things he says he will do.

But time is running out on those trends. The executive orders were a one-time thing: Presidents do not typically get fresh supplies of executive power (which is a good thing; otherwise we’d drift towards autocracy). So almost everything Biden can do without Congress is already done. And Covid relief was an example of the Democrats going it alone: In spite of their subsequent attempts to take credit for its good features, not a single Republican voted to pass it.

A lot of stuff Biden has said he will do is now sitting in the Senate’s queue:

If none of that passes, or if the bills get watered down to the point that nothing really changes, Biden becomes a nice guy who talks a good game, but doesn’t accomplish much. And Democrats go into the 2022 midterms not having delivered the change they promised, while facing increasing Republican efforts to restrict voting in states around the country. It will be harder to voter, and the voters Democrats need to target will be discouraged.

All these pending bills are popular. Some are popular by name, while others are popular if people are told what they do. (Even Republican voters want to end partisan gerrymandering, for example, which is why an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative can pass even in a red state like Utah — where the Republican legislature promptly undercut it.)

So far, Biden and the Democrats are trying to use that popularity with the voters to move Republicans in Congress. Negotiations are underway, but the infrastructure negotiations are typical. Grist sums up the Republican counterproposal as “all bridges, no climate” and observes:

It certainly looks like Republicans and Democrats are engaging in some honest-to-god political compromise: Biden started out with a big number and made it smaller, Republicans started with a small number and made it bigger. But closer investigation reveals that Republicans haven’t compromised very much at all. 

Nearly $1 trillion in spending sounds like a lot, but the lion’s share of the money Republicans want to spend on infrastructure isn’t new — it’s money that already gets budgeted out by Congress for infrastructure improvements every year and “leftover” money from previous COVID-19 relief bills. The assumption that there are wads of coronavirus money languishing in federal and state coffers is flawed, experts say. There is a lot of relief money that hasn’t been spent, but much of it will be spent in the coming years on Medicaid, federal lending programs, and state and local relief programs.

Without robbing Peter to pay Paul “[Senator Shelley Moore] Capito and company are proposing just $257 billion in new federal spending.” That’s over ten years. In particular, the GOP wants nothing to do with electric vehicles, reducing Biden’s $174 billion proposal to $4 billion.

Worse, as we just saw with John Katko and the 1-6 Commission fiasco, getting Capito to agree to something doesn’t mean the GOP caucus will support it. Biden could reach an agreement with Capito and still see the bill blocked by a filibuster when Capito brings less than ten colleagues with her. Ditto for Tim Scott and police reform.

This is a pattern we should all remember from the Obama years. Repeatedly, President Obama would seem to reach a “grand bargain” with Speaker Boehner, only to discover that Boehner could not deliver his caucus’ support.

The GOP’s ever-expanding grass-roots lunacy. While Tim Scott and Shelley Moore Capito play the role of reasonable Republicans in D.C., something else is happening out in the Trumpist countryside, where Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are on an America First tour.

While the rest of us are waiting to see exactly what he gets indicted for, Gaetz is out there opening calling for violence. Thursday in Dalton, Georgia he said:

The Internet’s hall monitors out in Silicon Valley, they think they can suppress us, discourage us. Maybe if you’re just a little less patriotic, maybe if you just conform to their way of thinking a little more, then you’ll be allowed to participate in the digital world. Well you know what? Silicon Valley can’t cancel this movement, or this rally, or this congressman. We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it.

In case there’s any doubt about what he means by that, here’s another clip from the same speech:

The Second Amendment is not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.

As far as I know, Gaetz did not identify by name anyone his audience should shoot. So I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg will be fine. It’s not like anybody ever listens to Trumpist rhetoric and then literally guns people down or mails bombs to them.

Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene has been trivializing the Holocaust. On several occasions, she has compared the public-health guideline that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks — and in particular, Speaker Pelosi’s insistence on maintaining the House’s mask mandate until all members are vaccinated — to the yellow stars that the Nazis required Jews to wear.

You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put on trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany, and this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.

The House GOP leadership has been unwilling to exert any real pressure to control Gaetz or Greene. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not commented on Gaetz’ call for violence, and his response to Greene was late and weak. Tuesday, he released a statement that did not even hint at consequences for Greene, should she not back down. (She hasn’t.) McCarthy tacitly excused Greene’s anti-Semitism by invoking both-sides-ism, saying Greene’s comments come “At a time when the Jewish people face increased violence and threats, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

So criticism of Israeli policy by Democrats like Rep. Rashida Tlaib is held up as comparable to Greene’s diminishment of the Holocaust, which can’t be disconnected from her earlier endorsement of a QAnon conspiracy theory that blamed California wildfires on “Jewish space lasers”.

In case you’ve lost your anti-Semitism scorecard, it wasn’t left-wingers who marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and it wasn’t Joe Biden who said there were “very fine people” on both sides of that demonstration. Democratic rhetoric about the border did not lead violent extremists to massacre 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue or target George Soros.

And there’s an audience out there for this stuff. The hatWRKS shop in Nashville backed up Greene’s Holocaust rhetoric by selling a “not vaccinated” yellow six-pointed star. (Yesterday’s NYT covered the backlash the store is facing: protesters have gathered outside, and the Stetson company will stop selling hats there. Eventually, the store apologized.)

The analogy between the unvaccinated and Jews in Nazi Germany makes perfect sense if you believe the following:

  • Jews in the Third Reich were spreading diseases that endangered other Germans.
  • The Nazis were trying to save Jewish lives.
  • Jews could have opted out of Nazi oppression at any time by taking a shot that would improve their health and make them less dangerous to others.
  • Over the next few years, the rest of us are planning to herd the unvaccinated into camps and exterminate them.

If you do believe those things, you and your family have my sympathies, and I hope you reestablish contact with reality soon. But if you don’t, and you wear the yellow star anyway, you’re just being an asshole.

Finally, there’s the continued unwillingness of Trump or his cultists to admit that he lost the election. (Mitch McConnell may say he wants to “move on” from January 6, but his party is unwilling to move on from November 3.) The bizarre Maricopa County “audit” continues, and just in case the Trump-biased auditors can’t find the fraud they are looking for, the Arizona Senate is already looking ahead to another audit. It’s like Benghazi: If one investigation can’t find the evidence you are looking for, just start another one.

Bringing all this back to Congress: There’s no one Democrats can negotiate with in good faith. If Biden should happen to reach an acceptable compromise with some Republican, we know what will happen: Trump will denounce the agreement, and before long any Republican who stands by it will be accused of being in league with the Rothschilds and their space lasers. Any compromising Republican who resists Trump’s pressure will have to keep looking over his shoulder for people “exercising their Second Amendment rights”.

The filibuster. Which brings us back to the filibuster. I already made my case for ending the filibuster back in January, so I won’t repeat it. The Democrats have the power to end the filibuster, but only if they all agree. So far, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are holding out.

Manchin in particular has been vocal about the importance of bipartisanship, and nostalgia for a time when relationships across party lines were more cordial.

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.

One point he makes in that op-ed is legitimate: If Congress could pass legislation through bipartisan compromise, the United States would have more stable laws and policies; flipping a couple seats in the Senate wouldn’t completely reverse the direction of country.

The problem is in the “if”. The reality is that the Senate can’t pass legislation through bipartisan compromise, and when Republicans have control, they have no reservations about pushing controversial proposals through without Democrats, as they pushed through Trump’s tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees. They would have repealed ObamaCare that way, but a handful of Republicans realized that the party had no replacement plan. None of the defecting Republicans seemed to be worrying about leaving Democrats out of the process.

So far, Biden and Chuck Schumer have been giving Manchin a chance to prove his case. He and Sinema worked hard to find 10 Republicans willing to back a 1-6 commission, and they came up short. He’s trying to put together an infrastructure compromise, which is also looking like a failure. In his op-ed, Manchin also cited voting rights as an issue that “should” have bipartisan support.

But it doesn’t.

Increasingly, it feels like these hopeless negotiations are intended to prove a point rather than reach a solution. But who is the demonstration for? Is it for Manchin, so that he can see that his vision of bipartisanship doesn’t work? Is if for the voters of West Virginia, so that they see that Manchin tried everything before giving in to reconciliation and filibuster reform? Is it for the American people, who are supposed to give Democrats credit for trying hard to make life better, even if they didn’t actually accomplish much?

I can’t figure it out.

But whoever the demonstration is for, it has to be coming to a conclusion. The Biden presidency and the Democratic control of Congress will succeed or fail in the next few months. Either Democrats will rig a way to pass popular high-priority bills without Republicans (either by creative use of reconciliation or by changing the filibuster), or they will throw up their hands and admit that America is ungovernable; it doesn’t matter what the People want, Congress can’t give it to them.

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  • NorthAndSouth (@SharonUp)  On May 31, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    “But whoever the demonstration is for, it has to be coming to a conclusion.” Does it though? We’ve been here literally since 2008. I see no such reckoning by Schumer. I hope you are right and we finally staring at the crossroads.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On May 31, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    I don’t see much value in a bipartisan 1/6 commission. The people who think “antifa” stormed the Capitol, or whose only regret is that the riot wasn’t violent enough, aren’t going to be swayed by the commission’s conclusions just because some Republicans contributed to them. If anything, it’s better if the Democrats can run it themselves without Republican interference and obstruction.

    Regarding the filibuster, with so many red states scrambling to restrict voting, one very red state that isn’t participating in that is West Virginia. It’s possible that the Republicans in the West Virginia legislature don’t want to put Manchin in a position where he has nothing to lose and will therefore support getting rid of the filibuster, if his only path to reelection is if HR1 passes.

    • Dale Moses  On June 1, 2021 at 3:22 pm

      These commissions would tend to be run by Congresspeople. So the purpose is to protect Republican congress people from having to take a stand in either direction as any stand would likely make some portion of their republican electorate unhappy.

    • Kim Cooper  On June 2, 2021 at 3:31 pm

      Would it accomplish anything if the Dems appoint a group to study the Insurrection, and appointed some or all of the six Repubs who voted for a bipartisan commission to be on it with Dems?

  • Michel S.  On June 2, 2021 at 4:00 am

    Gaetz is one of my least favorite Republicans (and that’s saying a lot given his competition) but it seems that in this case the video was edited, so it’s unclear he was directly calling for the Second Amendment to be used against the Bit Tech hall monitors:

    • weeklysift  On June 4, 2021 at 9:20 am

      As I read that — and as I watch the clip itself — I think it’s wrong to say that the clip was “edited”. He really did say these words in the order presented, without anything being clipped out of the middle.

      The “larger context” argument seems to me to be Gaetz covering his butt. I think the audience got the point.


  • By Revelations | The Weekly Sift on May 31, 2021 at 11:41 am

    […] This week’s featured post is “The Bipartisanship Charade is Almost Over“. […]

  • By writes on February 21, 2022 at 2:36 pm writes

    Access News Service: ANS — The Bipartisanship Charade is Almost Over

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