The $1,400 check had barely cleared when the honeymoon ended for President Biden, at least according to GOP leaders desperate to talk about something else, followed in lockstep by the type of Beltway pundit who apparently lives on a cot just off the set of “Morning Joe.” Saturday’s vernal equinox brought milder days and shorter nights — and a new political silly season.
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Democracy arsonist McConnell is running scared
Americans woke up this morning to numbingly familiar news: Another mass shooting, this time in the aisles of a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, in a state that has seen repeated gun tragedy from Columbine to Aurora. The city’s police say that 10 people — including one of their responding officers — were killed.
The nation’s latest mass slaughter came with one particularly cruel irony, in that it happened just a week after a judge overturned a Boulder municipal law aimed at banning high-powered assault weapons like the one believed to have been used by the supermarket gunman. That decision had caused the morally and literally bankrupt National Rifle Association to crow on Twitter about another glorious victory for the 2nd Amendment.
Around midnight Monday, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a leading advocate for gun control since the Newtown elementary-school massacre in his home state, tweeted that with his party finally controlling both Congress and the White House, the time for action is now. “No more Newtowns,” he wrote. “No more Parklands. No more Boulders. Now — we make our stand.”
But Murphy left out the most important part. Despite strong support from the public and in Congress for sensible gun laws, it will never happen unless all 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris find the political gumption to end the filibuster, which allows the GOP minority to block such measures. That job starts with tackling the rank hypocrisy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Since the Democrats won a shock upset election, and two Senate seats, in the Georgia runoff at the start of this year — thus ending McConnell’s six-plus year run as the Senate’s majority leader, with his extraordinary power to pass but more frequently kill legislation — the Kentucky Republican has been clinging by his 79-year-old fingernails to the filibuster as his last source of real power.
The Senate’s most notorious rule — which under its controversial modern interpretation means that legislation except for judicial and Cabinet appointments and certain kinds of spending bills can’t pass without a supermajority of 60 out of 100 votes — is under increasing fire from members of the new Democratic majority, not just on gun control but also to federally halt the GOP campaign of voter suppression in a number of states.
Mitch McConnell is not happy. In fact, he’s responded to proposals to abolish the filibuster not with a reasoned defense of the practice, but an angry threat. “Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin to imagine — what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said in a Senate speech last week. Sounding more like a Bond villain speaking from his island hideout near the North Pole than the current figurehead of the Party of Lincoln, McConnell vowed that the stalled legislation that occurred during Barack Obama’s presidency would be “child’s play” compared to GOP tactics if the filibuster is abolished.
The acrid odor of hypocrisy as McConnell spoke must have been overpowering. The GOP was talking about “scorched earth” as he stood amid the charred tree trunks and blackened ashes of the political arson fire he himself had set years ago. It was McConnell who poured the gasoline when he shut down any progressive legislation in a failed bid to make Obama a one-term president, then ignited an anti-democracy brushfire when he denied the first Black president even a hearing on his Supreme Court pick.
The tactics that McConnell employed when Republicans held a Senate majority (despite representing a minority of the nation’s citizens, thanks to the anti-democratic nature of the body) from 2015 through this January were brutal and repressive. If the moves he suggested as a response to unwinding the filibuster— petty stalling tactics like refusing to agree to routine measures such as scheduling, or requiring the lengthy reading of bills, as happened with the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package — sound small, it’s because McConnell and his power are rapidly shrinking. The Kentuckian’s “scorched earth” bravado failed to mask the reality — that Mitch McConnell is running scared.
He should be scared. Much of America is having a long-overdue moment of clarity about the filibuster — that the procedure is not a cherished hallmark of a nation’s exceptional democracy but rather a tool of white supremacy that has metastasized out of control. In former Senate aide Adam Jentleson’s remarkable new book, Kill Switch (see more below), he makes clear that the Founders would be spinning in their graves over the way that U.S. democracy has been corroded by minority rule. The new conversation seems to be gradually changing the mindset of key Senate institutionalists as well as President Biden, who served in the body for 36 years.
Today, it will be interesting to see if the horror over another mass murder, in Boulder, adds to the momentum for ending the filibuster to finally pass common-sense measures like expanding gun background checks, which McConnell and a GOP minority of 45 senators blocked in 2013 after Newtown, in deference to their dark-money masters at the NRA.
The Democrats must seize this brief window to pass popular, progressive legislation, block the stepped-up Republican war on voting rights, and save a democracy that has been tottering since Trump’s destructive presidency and the January 6 insurrection. McConnell’s empty threats shouldn’t dissuade the Democrats. His panic is, rather, a sign that they’re finally on the verge of doing the right thing.
Yo, do this
I don’t usually merge my political columns with my pop-culture recommendations but here I’ll note that I’ve started on the audiobook of one of the most timely tomes of the 21st century: Adam Jentleson’s Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of Democracy. In trying to slay the demon that the filibuster and its broader principle of minority rule have become over the last 200 years but especially over the last 30 or so, the former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivers page after page of crushing detail on how the Founders never would have backed the filibuster, as well as that procedure’s deep roots in white supremacy. Like The Feminine Mystique, Unsafe at Any Speed or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this is a book that should change minds and could change American society...for good.
There is dogged journalism, and then there’s the work that the veteran writer Greg Mitchell has done in staying on the story of what really happened in 1945 when America bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II, and the extent of a subsequent U.S. government cover-up. After writing three books on the topic, Mitchell finally obtained the film footage that America’s leaders didn’t want you to see, some of it shot by a U.S. team 75 years ago this month and hidden from the public. His new documentary, Atomic Cover-Up, can be watched between now and March 30 at the Cinequest Film Festival for a $3.99 ticket. As a timely reminder that we hold the power to undo the stain of modern warfare, it demands to be seen.
Ask me anything
Question: Is there any indication that Biden is thinking about how the U.S. can help meet the needs of Latin American countries, instead of just framing the issue as us having too many immigrants crossing over our southern border? — Via @ErickInAmerica on Twitter
Answer: The answer is absolutely “yes,” In fact, both as a candidate and now as 46th president, Joe Biden has touted a $4 billion package that would dramatically boost U.S. aid in the key nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as well as southern Mexico — aimed at addressing the root causes that force so many to leave their native countries for America. Interestingly, Biden also promised to pay for some of this by diverting money that Homeland Security now spends on detention — which won’t be easy given the current surge. It’s imperative that the president, Congress and our perpetually distracted news media doesn’t lose focus on the only real long-term solution to a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.
Like a bunch of college kids on spring break in Miami Beach ripping their masks off (even though they shouldn’t, yet) after a year in quarantine and going on a rampage, the Beltway media can’t stop its own wilding about the humanitarian refugee crisis at the U.S. southern border, drinking in Republican talking points like a lukewarm case of Michelob Ultra. But for all the breathless coverage on cable TV news and four-bylined stories in the Washington Post, the U.S. media seems to be failing in the basic journalistic task of asking if their sources are on the level. For that level of scrutiny, one has to virtually cross the pond to read the UK’s Independent, which reported Monday that, “Border Patrol agents are ‘working to sabotage the Biden administration’, according to insiders.”
The article by the Independent’s D.C.-based reporter Andrew Feinberg quotes the former U.S.-Border-Patrol-agent-turned-whistleblower Jen Budd, who called the logjam of teens and adolescents seeking asylum and being held in grossly overcrowded facilities “a planned, coordinated attempt to sabotage the Biden administration.” The piece argues that rank-and-file Border Patrol agents and their labor union — which broke with precedent in endorsing Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020 — are deliberately slow-walking the unaccompanied minors through holding centers that are not set up to accommodate them, and then in tipping off friendly GOP pols or right-wing reporters about the cramped conditions. It also questions the political optics of their union’s president, Brandon Judd, appearing on stage with Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to bash the Biden administration. American citizens need an honest account of what’s happening at the border, which means reporters must cut through these theatrics.
Inquirer reading list
The jarring news last week that a gunman had rampaged through three spas in metro Atlanta and murdered eight people — six of them women of Asian descent — inspired me to write my Sunday column about the roots of a uniquely American tragedy. While prompting a long overdue conversation about racism, specifically targeting those of Asian heritage, the mass shooting also raised uncomfortable questions about violence against women and our bizarre gun laws. Why is it easier to purchase a gun in Georgia than to vote?
Over the weekend, I described my initial reaction to both the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border but also the media’s eagerness to brand the situation as a misstep by the Biden administration. Both top Republicans and the pundits who echoed them both predictably underplayed the outgoing Trump administration’s role in the border mess and ignored the implications for what matters most regarding refugees — respecting their human rights and dignity.
Dude, where’s my car? In Philadelphia, that’s not just a vaguely remembered movie title but a frequent lament of motorists who discover they’re the unexpected victim of a practice with the Orwellian name of “courtesy towing.” It’s when the city needs to quickly move your car for something like a street repaving or a film shooting, even though you’ve broken no law. You’ll be shocked, shocked to learn how carelessly this is done, with drivers — as expertly documented by The Inquirer’s William Bender — sometimes taking days to locate their vehicle. These local problems get ignored unless there’s local journalism. Please support what we do at The Inquirer by subscribing.