Democrats plot strategy to make GOP pay in 2021
Democrats are feeling powerless about the Republican drive to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, and understandably so — there’s little that Democratic senators or their supporters can do to stop it.
As a result, some are looking ahead to 2021 and planning ways to get even — provided that Democrats flip the White House and Senate and hold the House in November. Several ideas that were once on the fringes are surging up the Democratic agenda as fundamental changes that could blunt Republican power in the long run.
Among them: ending the Senate filibuster, the
supermajority needed to pass virtually any legislation; granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as a way to add four likely Democratic senators and a handful of electoral votes; and expanding the Supreme Court to 13 members, with Joe Biden choosing the next four.
“Right now, there is an appetite for all three, and it is expanding beyond just progressive Democrats,” said Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America. The party’s base “wants to see things passed, and we’ve gone around and around on this, and people are tired of it. Democrats have grown a backbone.”
Before they even start contemplating these changes, Democrats face one big challenge: Biden isn’t on board with most of these ideas, at least not yet.
But other mainstream Democrats are coming around to at least some of them. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear he intended to hold a vote on Trump’s nominee this year, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer countered that “nothing is off the table for next year.”
Grassroots activists are raring to go, even if it means turning on reluctant Democrats like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. On Wednesday, the leftleaning Courage Campaign urged its supporters to “help us flood Sen. Feinstein’s office with calls to make sure she represents California, not her own selfinterest,” after she said she opposed doing away with the filibuster.
But it’s not just Feinstein whom activists will have to persuade. They will have to work on Biden, who won the Democratic nomination by positioning himself as someone who could win the moderate swing states that voted for Trump four years ago.
He has no interest in pushing farreaching proposals that require a lot of explanation to uninitiated voters six weeks before election day. Instead, at a rally in Philadelphia on Sunday, he pushed a message of moderation.
“Action and reaction, anger and more anger, sorrow and frustration at the way things are in this country now politically, that’s the cycle that Republican senators will continue to perpetuate if they go down this dangerous path that they put us on,” Biden said. “We need to deescalate, not escalate.”
Biden has also pointed out that any changes Democrats might make in 2021 would simply be exploited by Republicans the next time they take power.
David Atkins, a Democratic National Committee member from Santa Barbara who has been advocating for all three issues, isn’t worried about engaging in a titfortat with Republicans.
“People worry about a race to the bottom,” Atkins said. “But what people don’t realize is that we are already there.”
UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who supports increasing the size of the court, said Biden is smart to hang back.
“I don’t think there is any need for Joe Biden to take a position on this issue today,” Chemerinsky said. “There will be time for that later.”
Here is a look at each change catching fire with progressives:
Ending the filibuster: This would be the most foundational change, as it would make it far easier for Democrats to accomplish their other goals.
The filibuster allows a minority of 40 senators in the 100member chamber to block a vote on any bill. All it would take is a simple majority of the Senate to kill it.
The filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution — the Senate simply adopted it over the years. Southern segregationists long used it to block civil rights reforms, something one of the Democrats’ most popular figures, former President Barack Obama, pointed out when he called for ending it in his eulogy at Rep. John Lewis’ funeral.
To this day, it allows “minority rule to continue,” Atkins said.
Biden, however, spent nearly four decades in the Senate and, like Feinstein, is an institutionalist. He said during the primaries that he opposed eliminating the filibuster, and has avoided answering questions about it since Ginsburg died.
Expanding the Supreme Court: The Constitution doesn’t set a limit on the number of justices. All it would take to expand the court would be a vote of Congress and approval by the president. Chemerinsky, the UC Berkeley Law School dean, said Democrats should do it if Republicans push a Ginsburg replacement through without Trump first being reelected.
“I don’t believe in unilateral disarmament,” he said. “If Republicans are willing to divide the country, it doesn’t make any sense that Democrats should do nothing.”
But here as well, Biden is not a fan. In an October debate, he predicted that if Democrats add justices, “next time around, we lose control, they (Republicans) add three justices. We begin to lose any credibility the court has at all.”
Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico: This is the lowest priority for Democrats. Again, all it would take would be a vote of Congress and a “yes” from the president, along with support from D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Two in three Americans support statehood for Puerto Rico, according to a 2019 Gallup Poll, a figure that has remained relatively stable over the past 50 years. Support for D.C. statehood is weaker, with 40% of registered voters backing it and 41% preferring that it remain a federal district, according to a June YouGov poll.
The bounty for Democrats if both are admitted to the union: four new senators and as many as five additional House members, plus a likely gain in electoral votes.
Biden’s viewpoint: He supports statehood for D.C. and “selfdetermination” for the island.
Grassroots activists are raring to go, even if it means turning on reluctant Democrats like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.