Biden Agenda Weakening, Voting Endangered

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

– William Shakespeare, King Lear

When I was a little boy, an uncle gifted me with a Lionel electric train with blue and gray passenger cars and tracks that ran in a circle. As much as I loved it, I got tired of watching it go around and around and around, going nowhere, accomplishing nothing.

I was reminded of that long ago time because of what’s happening in the Biden administration, which appears to be losing steam as it chuffs and spins its wheels against an obstructionist Trump party and some of its own stubborn conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

If President Joe Biden wants to get somewhere with his far-reaching for-the-middle-class agenda and, most importantly, with resisting voting rights being stolen by Republican states, he’s got to play hardball. He needs to “stop the GOP steal.”

Biden, to twist Hamlet, is far less than kin but more than kind to Republicans and some Democrats in caving on his progressive $3.5 trillion social contract package, expressing a willingness to cut more than $1.5 trillion of it to satisfy coal baron Manchin. Lyndon Johnson he’s not.

But crippling major legislation is one thing. Attacking and wounding, if not killing, American democracy, a cornerstone of the foundation of this country, is another. And the right to one person, one vote is a pillar of this democracy.

The worst strike against Biden’s agenda is the Republican refusal, for the third time, to even debate the Freedom to Vote Act that’s intended to override the sinister 33 laws passed by 19 GOP-led states to suppress the voting of minorities. They generally cast ballots for Democrats. And this after Manchin watered down the proposed law to make it more palatable to Republicans.

“Look – hey look, it’s all about compromise,” Biden said at a CNN-sponsored town hall meeting last week.

There have been too many one-sided compromises. Failure to get biggies like combatting climate change, providing child care and expanding Medicare – aside from the voting rights bill – will disappoint many Democratic voters. They have big expectations of catching up with the rest of Western democracies’ social programs based on Biden’s campaign promises.

Fix Our Senate, an organization that want an end to the filibuster, may have spoken for most Democrats when it said in a statement Friday that Biden and Senate Democrats “need to fulfill campaign promises and defend our democracy –- there’s too much at stake,” according to The New York Times.

“After three Republican filibusters of commonsense voter protection laws, it’s time to end the filibuster and protect the right to vote for all Americans,” it said.

It takes two to compromise, and the Republicans aren’t willing to go along. Biden, in repeatedly seeking compromise, chooses to ignore the polarization in Congress, perhaps believing this is the same Senate in which he served for 36 years, representing Delaware.

But the times and the political makeup of the Senate have changed dramatically. And not for the good of the country.

Why would Republicans in Congress accept the Freedom to Vote Act when their party brethren at the state level have passed laws that, insidiously, are aimed at installing their loyalists as election officials to try to ensure they would win disputed ballot counts.

Guess who would benefit if there were repeats of the 2020 election, such as when Trump asked the secretary of state of Georgia, a Republican, to “find” 11,780 votes so he could beat Biden there. He refused. Would a Trump loyalist refuse if there is a next time?

“These laws will make it harder for millions of Americans to participate in their government,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “If there is anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there is any issue that merits debate on this floor, it is protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

It’s readily apparent that fixing voting rights won’t get past the Senate unless the Democrats vote to end the filibuster in that chamber. The rule says 60 votes are needed instead of a simple majority to end debate on a topic. This is what makes it easier for the minority opposition to obstruct the legislation of the party in power.

Manchin and Sinema are against ending the filibuster. So was Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. Until he changed his mind.

“I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” the Associated Press quoted him.

Biden may have concluded the same thing.

At that CNN meeting, host Anderson Cooper asked Biden if he would end the filibuster so the Democrats could pass the voting rights bill.

“We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” the president replied. Finally.

King told C-Span that if voter suppression laws stand, “we will be left with a downward spiral toward a hollow shell of democracy, where only raw power prevails and its peaceful transfer becomes a distant memory,” according to Heather Cox Richardson in her Substack column Oct. 19, “Letters from an American.”

King called on his fellow senators “to pull our country back from the brink and to begin the work of restoring our democracy . . . first by simply telling the truth and then by enacting a set of basic protections of the sacred right to vote.”

If they won’t do that, he said, we will lose “our identity as a people . . . the miracle of self-government and . . . the idea of America.”

What the Republicans are doing with the vote is anathema to everything this country stands for. And the crime is it’s all based on the Big Lie promoted by Trump and spread by his Republican minions that he won the election. It’s a moral and ethical crime, even if it can’t be prosecuted.

Oh, that electric train? It eventually went the way of Puff the Magic Dragon.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.