The Moderate Case for HR-1

Let me try to make a moderate’s case for two progressive goals: the elimination of the Senate filibuster and the Democrats’ voting rights bill, HR-1.

The moderate case goes like this. When 75 million people vote for an autocrat, American democracy, and the liberal Enlightenment values that it is based on, are in serious trouble. Donald Trump and his Republican Party are following the elected autocrats’ playbook. Part of that strategy is to undermine free and fair elections so that they can lock in their power, despite having the support of a minority of voters. If a Trumpist Republican Party takes back both the White House and Congress after 2024 there is a real danger that they will lock-in an elected autocracy. With the likelihood that Republicans will take back one or both houses of Congress in the mid-terms, we may have only little more than a year to head this off. The only way to do that is by passing some version of HR-1 and the only way to pass it is by eliminating or somehow watering down the filibuster.

That’s it in a nutshell. Now let me expand on those arguments.

Exactly a year ago, populist autocrats in Poland’s amusingly titled “Law and Justice Party” won a narrow election to continue their reign for another three years. In his piece, “The End of Democracy in Poland,” Yascha Mounk, the founder of Persuasion, wrote: “Elected autocrats tend to follow six steps: win elections; capture referees, such as courts and other independent bodies; attack or seize control of the media; demonize and undermine the opposition; change the rules of the game; and win new elections that are no longer free.

A year ago, Andrzej Duda won a narrow reelection as Poland’s president. His Law & Justice Party continues to dismantle Poland’s democracy. It could happen here.

“In the final step towards authoritarianism, the government is likely to start attacking the integrity of the electoral system itself. The opportunities to do so are many: Law and Justice could try to.. take away powers from big city mayors, who tend to belong to the opposition party.”

This is exactly what Trump and the Republicans are trying to do. Republican state governments are taking power away from cities and, in general, making it harder to vote in urban areas that tend to vote blue. Moreover, they’re making it easier to challenge free and fair results and even, in some extreme cases, making it easier for legislatures and courts to turn back demonstrably fair elections. So far, 14 states have passed 22 bills making it harder to vote.

HR-1 would create Federal standards for running elections that would make moot some of the most egregious power plays coming from Republicans. But since all Senate Republicans will vote against the bill, it can only pass with a simple majority. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the moderate Democrat and key vote on many issues who opposed HR-1 in its original form, crafted a compromise version of the bill that he would vote for, but Republicans blocked it with a filibuster.

That’s why the filibuster has to go. Here again, while Manchin and seven more Democratic Senators plus Independent Angus King of Maine have been resistant to eliminating the filibuster, Manchin has said that he might be open to some reforms — like a talking filibuster that requires Senators to physically hold the floor.

I am reticent myself about ending the filibuster. Democrats might need it some day when Republicans are in control again, just as they used it when Trump was in power. But here’s the thing. I believe it will go away now or it will go away next time Mitch McConnell is in charge. I’m convinced — given his track record — that if McConnell has a majority and a Republican president to work with in January, 2025, the very first thing he’ll do is abolish the filibuster. Would that be hypocritical, given his strong opposition to eliminating it now? Of course it would and what’s your point? This is the guy who wouldn’t give Merrick Garland so much as a hearing and then rushed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett under the same circumstances four years later.

So, that’s my moderate’s case for two of the left’s most pressing agenda items. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t necessarily be for eliminating the filibuster, but these aren’t normal circumstances. Trumpism and today’s Republican Party represent existential threats to our democracy and to classical liberal values. I worry that if we don’t act now to save them, we may not get another chance.

Welcome to the 140th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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