I’m furious about Democrats taking the blame — it’s time to fight back

Like many Democrats, both progressives and moderates, I am deeply disappointed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) torpedoing the effort to suspend the filibuster so the voting rights legislation could pass the Senate. I am disappointed as an American because I am convinced that some of the protections in the bill will help preserve our democracy, but I am also concerned that failing to suspend the filibuster for this bill could have a damaging effect on the Democrats’ chances to hold the House and Senate in November’s elections.

For the past several weeks, media coverage of the fight to pass the voting rights bill has centered on the Hamlet-level intrigue generated by Manchin and Sinema, who coyly made headlines with their on-again, off-again decisions about whether to suspend the rules and eliminate the filibuster just for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Now anger has eclipsed my disappointment. I’m angry at the media and pundits who are letting Republicans manipulate the discourse, convincing the average American that the only reason vital legislation to protect the right to vote is stalled is that two Democratic senators are not in favor of the measure.

Truth be told, the Republican Party deserves far more blame for allowing the voting rights bill to die on the vine since every member of the GOP caucus has pledged to vote against it.

The media seem willing, or unmotivated, to fully cover this blow to democracy and expose the Republican opposition. If you followed this issue just in the news, you might think the battle is being waged solely within the Democratic Party. The media have given Republicans a free pass and have failed to give attention to the solid phalanx that Republicans have put up against it.  That means the Democrats must do so. 

If I were currently Democratic National Committee chair, as I was more than two decades ago, I would purchase full-page ads in newspapers, saturate the radio airwaves in every urban center, blanket billboards in neighborhoods that are predominantly home to people of color, and penetrate social media platforms that these voters frequent. I would tell these citizens the real score — 48 Democrats in favor and 50 Republicans lined up against a bill to protect voting rights.

We must flood Black and Hispanic communities with this information so that the Democratic base understands that even though Manchin and Sinema have been unreasonable, the real blame for the stalemate rests with Republicans who will not permit even one senator to vote in favor of lifting the filibuster so the bill can proceed to a vote.

Beyond ads, we must deploy a virtual armada of Democrats to speak to civic groups, fraternal organizations and other public venues to explain how Republicans want to kill voting rights.

I am certain that this sort of aggressive public relations campaign would get the message across —  and I’m equally certain if we don’t wage this fight, Democrats will take the blame for its failure at the polls this fall. We must cement the understanding among diverse Democrats that Republicans kiboshed the voting rights legislation and, in doing so, generated the enthusiasm needed for a massive voter turnout in 2022. 

That is a strategy for electing at least three more Democrats to the Senate. If we can effectively communicate this message to our base, they will help us make that happen and, at the same time, save all Americans’ right to vote — and perhaps, even our democracy.

It is time to counter-punch and turn every argument on the Republicans, so that they pay the price for their cynical stance to maintain the filibuster and reduce the number of Americans able to legally cast their votes in 2022.

But we should not stop there. We need a second part of this strategy that can be achieved by forcing Republicans to cast votes on every issue and create a record to run against. Of course, thanks to the absurd filibuster rule, we can’t force them to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on the actual bills themselves, but we can force them to cast votes upholding the filibuster and effectively killing the legislation. 

So, make Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) vote no on protecting the right to vote, access to the polls, and blocking voter suppression. Make Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) vote to end the child care tax credit for middle-class families in Wisconsin that potentially would raise 1.2 million children out of poverty. Make Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vote no on paid family leave that even former President Trump supported. Make Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) vote no on funding child care for nearly 300,000 young children in Kentucky so their parents can afford to go back to work. 

We have nothing to lose by taking the most popular parts of the Build Back Better Act and turning them into standalone legislation that would put Republicans on record for their votes regarding each of its popular measures. That would give them a real Hobson’s choice, where they must decide whether to stick with party leadership’s plan to defeat all of President Biden’s agenda by voting “no,” including on those parts of the agenda that are popular with most Americans. They will take responsibility for their votes at the polls.

By orchestrating this plan effectively, we can run against the recalcitrant Republican Party that says “no” to the president’s proposals, regardless of merit, reinforcing our basic message to voters that the only way to get these popular programs approved is to elect more Democratic senators.

This strategy may not be the best for America in the short term, but the Republicans leave us no choice. Their insistence to vote “no” on everything the president proposes is the worst type of politics for our country.

Sen. Sinema’s statement on Thursday that she would not support changing the filibuster to pass legislation left most Democrats gloomy, believing there is nothing we can do to enact our agenda. We can — and must — flip the issue and change the narrative to persuade voters of the truth, that Republicans are willing to say “no” to anything proposed by a Democrat even if it might help American families meet the challenges facing them.

America is not well served by the hyperpartisan Republican strategy to derail all of Biden’s programs. We must hold the GOP responsible for employing this strategy and ensure that they pay a heavy price for doing so. It is time to fight back, with the same full-fisted vigor they use to attack Democrats (and even their own party members who dare to break from the party’s edicts).

It is time to play hardball. Let’s roll up our sleeves and fight with every weapon we have available to us, so that the things we believe are necessary for many Americans to prosper will become law.

Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. Follow him on Twitter @GovEdRendell.

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