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Democrats Coping With Major Discrepancies Over Key Voting Bill 

Democrats are currently facing somewhat of a stress test over the filibuster which has been triggered by a high-priority bill that has been in the works to remake US election laws.  While Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been some of the most vocal in their opposition of the rewriting of these voting laws, they’re definitely not alone. 

Several other Democrats have indicated in separate interviews that they would be reluctant to kill the filibuster or that they would prefer to make reforms to current laws instead of a total rewrite. 

Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they’re anti-filibuster, however, due to the 60-vote rule on the Senate floor, not much progress has been made. Senator Mark Kelly has claimed to be noncommittal on changing the rules and spoke with the press about these tensions.  

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“What I’m open to is considering and looking at any proposed changes in the rules. And I will ultimately make a decision based on: Do I feel — is this in the best interest of the state of Arizona and the country? And I’m not looking for something that is in the best interest of just Democrats.”

“I have talked about the importance of reforming it. I think it’s critically important that it not be abused and I think that we are having these discussions right now,” Senator Maggie Hassan said in support of reform. 

If the voting bill is passed it would undo restrictive voting laws that are in Republican-led states and instead establish universal requirements for all.

When Senator John Hickenlooper was asked if he’s supportive of preserving the filibuster he claimed: “I am still in that place. But I think, like a lot of people, I’m having frequent conversations. I get my advice from other governors, like former Governor Phil Bredesen, who was talking about how it hasn’t been a thing to help the minority get their voice heard, it’s become a tool just for obstruction.”

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“There are clearly a number of senators who are reluctant to change the rules but who have also made it clear in recent months that they are frustrated with the status quo and won’t accept inaction forever.”

“So we are very hopeful that once the caucus makes a decision and has Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema on board, that the rest of the caucus will be on board and make the changes necessary to make the Senate work,” said former Democratic leadership aide Eli Zupnick.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that “all Republicans will oppose the voting bill in its current form, even with changes Manchin has proposed seeking compromise. This would federalize elections and shift control of the process away from the states.

Democrats are continuing to fight to change these laws to allow for a more universal understanding of how elections should run. 

“What we are talking about isn’t just Senate procedure, it’s a complete takeover of our elections, which will ultimately destroy the American people’s confidence in fair elections,” said Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America.

Impeachment Trial

Impeachment Trial Begins in Earnest as Senators Clash Over Rules

Although the president’s impeachment trial technically began last Thursday, when House impeachment managers delivered articles of impeachment to the Senate and senators swore an oath of impartiality, the actual substance of the trial did not begin until today at one o’clock, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered opening statements and began debating the rules of the trial. McConnell’s resolution, released late last night, infuriated Democrats as they perceived the proposed rules to be tremendously unfair, as they only give the prosecution and the defense 24 hours to present their arguments over the course of 2 days, do not allow for the production of documents and witnesses, and call for the proceedings to run late into the night, at a time when Americans are likely not to watch the trial.

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Despite these restrictions, McConnell argued that the trial would be fair, raising objections from TV pundits as well as Democratic politicians. In response, Schumer decried the rules, pointing out McConnell’s hypocrisy as he previously said that he wanted the rules of the trial to resemble the ones that governed the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. Additionally, reporters are complaining about the strict rules that limit journalistic access to the proceedings; while reporters are allowed to sit in the Senate gallery and observe the trial, they are not allowed to bring any electronic devices, including cameras, into the room. Instead, the camera that will film the trial is controlled by the government, and will only record the person who is speaking at the moment. What’s more, reporters are not allowed to ask questions of the senators as they walk through the halls of the Senate, which is a time-honored tradition on Capitol Hill. As such, cable networks are limited in their capacity to broadcast the event, and journalists have expressed fears that such rules prevent reporters from doing the job of recording momentous political occasions for the historical record.

Though McConnell characterized his proposed rules as “fair,” they break with Senate tradition and precedent as they seem to be engineered to prevent the discovery of new information and to limit the American people’s exposure to evidence in the case against Trump. Unfortunately for Democrats, McConnell’s resolution is likely to pass, as Republican senators are known for falling in line under McConnell’s direction. A simple majority of 51 votes is required to pass trial resolutions in the Senate, and as there are 53 Republican US Senators, it’s likely that the resolution will pass with few, if any, amendments. While Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial, if he chooses to keep with precedent, he will do virtually nothing. In the Clinton trial, Chief Justice Rehnquist made almost no contributions to the trial, later commenting that he did very little and did it very well. However, the situation in the Clinton trial was very different, as senators agreed in a 100-0 vote on the rules that would govern the trial.

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American public sentiment does not match the proposed rules in the trial. According to a poll conducted by the Washington Post, more than 70% of Americans want the impeachment trial to include witnesses, and a slim majority, 51%, believe the evidence that has been unearthed in advance of the trial is sufficient to warrant the president’s removal from office. Republican senators have already signalled that they will vote to acquit the president, and virtually nobody believes that Trump will be removed from office via the impeachment process; however, many are disappointed by the restrictive and precedent-shattering nature of the rules that will likely govern the trial.

Notably, some of the senators who will act as jurors in the trial are also running for president, meaning that they are unable to campaign during the duration of the trial. These senators include two of the Democratic frontrunners, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Senators Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennett. According to the rules of the trial, senators are not allowed to speak at all throughout the duration of the proceedings, which may prove difficult for some. Additionally, senators will not be allowed to leave the room to use the bathroom or eat, which may prove difficult for some as the proceedings are expected to start at one PM and continue well past one o’clock in the morning.

Update: After this article was written, Republican senators changed their proposed rules to allow arguments to be held over three days, not two, reducing the logistical challenge for participants in the trial.

Impeachment Trial

Should Senators Vote Secretly in Impeachment Trial?

To say there exists little historical precedent for presidential impeachment trials would be an understatement. Before Trump, only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever faced an impeachment trial in the Senate, and the circumstances in each trial were very different. During Johnson’s trial, for instance, 41 witnesses testified, whereas Clinton’s trial only featured a handful of witnesses. If Senate Republicans get their way, however, Trump’s trial will feature neither witnesses nor subpoenas for documents, and it will end quickly with an acquittal. The Constitution gives Congress the freedom to determine its own rules for how to handle impeachment trials; this fact, combined with the relative lack of historical precedent, makes it difficult for anyone to predict how the trial will proceed. That being said, the trial will likely be shaped in large part by partisan allegiance to the president, as several Republican senators have already said they’re not interested in acting as impartial jurors and Mitch McConnell has predicted a “largely partisan outcome.” Because hyperpartisanship threatens jurors’ impartiality, and thus the integrity of the trial, some political strategists have suggested that the senators should cast their ballot in secret, protecting them from the political ramifications of their vote and encouraging an independent decision.

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According to Juleanna Glover, a Republican strategist, it would be fairly easy for the Senate to ensure a secret ballot. Creating rules for the trial requires only a simple majority vote in the Senate; assuming Democrats vote in lockstep in favor of a secret ballot, only three Republicans would have to defect to reach the 51 votes necessary to effectuate the rule. Though they don’t publicly admit it for fear of the political repercussions, many Republican senators strongly oppose the president in private, according to various reports. In fact, former Republican senator Jeff Flake has said that he believes that there are at least 35 GOP senators who would vote to remove Trump if the votes were private; such a result would make Trump the first president in US history to be removed by the impeachment process. A secret ballot, however, would break with Senate tradition and expectations of transparency surrounding Senate proceedings, particularly in the extreme case of deciding whether to remove a sitting president from office. That being said, the atmosphere of hyperpartisanship, combined with an overall dislike of the president among lawmakers, may be enough to convince more than half of the Senate to institute such an unusual rule.

Few people predict that Trump will be removed from the White House before the 2020 election, but we live in an era in which unprecedented and unpredicted political events are borderline commonplace. 

While American politics has long been characterized by partisanship, the current political environment is arguably more partisan than ever before, with the vote in the House to impeach Trump passing almost entirely along party lines. The Senate is often considered to be a more impartial chamber than the House, but by most accounts it is still more partisan than it’s ever been. In Clinton’s trial, Republicans and Democrats collaborated to determine the rules, resulting in unanimous consent among all 100 senators—such an outcome is nearly inconceivable in today’s Senate. This very partisanship, though, is precisely what may motivate some senators to support a secret ballot. And while there exists a certain demand for transparency for actions taken by the Senate, grand jury proceedings, which the Senate trial will essentially function as, allow jurors to deliberate and vote in secret. 

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Already, cracks are starting to form in the Republicans’ solidarity in their support of Trump; Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, for instance, has said that she is “disturbed” by McConnell’s pledge to coordinate with the White House in defining the rules of the trial, and Mitt Romney has characterized the president’s conduct for which he was impeached as “troubling in the extreme.” A secret ballot, though admittedly unlikely, may be enough for these cracks to cause Republican senators’ defense of Trump to collapse, leading to his potential removal from office. Few people predict that Trump will be removed from the White House before the 2020 election, but we live in an era in which unprecedented and unpredicted political events are borderline commonplace.