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Commentary: How the Md. Senate race could impact the fight for democracy

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

By Don Mohler

The writer is the former Baltimore County executive and president and CEO of Mohler Communication Strategies. He can be reached at [email protected].

There is not much we agree on as a nation anymore. But we do agree that our politics is broken and that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Yes, the two parties come to that conclusion from vastly different perspectives, but agree they do.

Since the traditional Republican Pary has gone the way of the Whigs, let’s focus on the two parties that now dominate our political discourse: the MAGA and Democratic parties. At its core, MAGA officials simply do not believe in government, unless of course, it has to do with women’s reproductive rights, who you choose to love, what bathroom you want to use, and evidently how you decide to start a family. Other than those minor hiccups, to them, government action is the enemy.

For example, every time we are on the brink of another government shutdown, Gaetz, Greene, Boebert, and the rest of the merry band race to the cameras to shout, “You know it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if this place simply closed up shop.” That “let it die” philosophy was on full display recently during Congress’ effort to address the ongoing crisis at the border.

After months of lengthy, bipartisan negotiations, the most conservative members of the United States Senate reached a detailed agreement to deter thousands of immigrants from crossing the border illegally. It was the most comprehensive immigration package in decades. Democratic progressives accepted provisions that they found distasteful because they realized that compromise would be necessary to move forward.

At the conclusion of the process, the legislation reportedly had 27 Republican senators ready to support the bill. After years of failure, Congress was ready to act.  But wait for it — suddenly, the one and only, Donald J. Trump, stepped forward to suggest that it was somehow a “bad bill.”  What he really meant was that solving a problem for the American people might not be helpful to his reelection chances. One tweet later and just like that, the bill was dead.

When House Republicans demanded action on border security before passing a foreign aid package, they never dreamed a compromise was possible. They had deuces, but the Senate turned over a straight flush, Donald took his chips and went home, and the American people were once again left holding the bag. So yes, MAGA supporters know that our government is broken, and they kind of like it that way.

Exasperated, the Democratic faithful just throw their hands up in the air. They do not understand how in the world our Founders got us into this mess.

There is no denying that President Biden has secured passage of significant legislation with bipartisan support. The American Rescue Act helped Americans claw their way back after the devastation of COVID. We avoided a recession because of its success. The Inflation Reduction Act invested heavily in clean energy and significantly reduced drug prices, particularly for seniors. After years of failure, Biden was able to get Congress to pass a major infrastructure package. As a result of that effort, bridges and roads are being rebuilt, airports are being upgraded, lead is being removed from the nation’s water supply, and broadband is being expanded to rural America. Those are all good things.

The CHIPS and Science Act ensures that semiconductors will now be made in the United States instead of China. And although falling short of what gun-safety advocates demanded, Congress did pass the most comprehensive gun safety legislation in 30 years.

That is an impressive record by any measure, but Democratic voters, particularly the base, still feel stuck in the mud. Why is that?

I would suggest there is one overwhelming villain, and it is a villain that can be slayed immediately on the Senate side of the chamber. Slaying that devil, will also help Democrats reelect President Biden, keep the Senate, and take back control of the House in November. That dark and sinister villain is none other than the filibuster.

While our Founders were a great group of men (unfortunately, it was still a “Men’s Only” club at the time), they did mess up a few things that haunt us to this day. The Electoral College is one. Assigning two senators to each state regardless of population would be another. However, we can’t blame them for the filibuster. It is never mentioned in the Constitution, and in 1789, both the House and the Senate operated with simple majority rules. The House continues to operate that way to this day.

According to the Brookings Institution, it was Aaron Burr who suggested that the Senate should be a more deliberative body and that it get rid of the “previous question” motion, meaning move away from simple majority rule. Burr spoke. The Senate listened. And just like that, in 1806, the simple majority rule in the Senate was gone. The filibuster was born.

As Common Cause writes, “The filibuster rule is undemocratic — it’s outrageous that a bill supported by the vast majority of Americans can be blocked by a handful of senators who represent a minority of Americans. So, if we want the new Congress to get anything done, we need to fix the filibuster.”

They are right, but there is some good news. The Senate’s rules have been modified many times. Harry Reid did it, and famously, Mitch McConnell did it, giving us the current makeup of the Supreme Court. Watching McConnell wax poetically about the sanctity of the filibuster is laughable — but so deadly serious. If you don’t think for a minute that if Republicans take back control of the Senate in 2024, they won’t immediately move to end the filibuster and impose a national abortion ban, then you just aren’t paying attention.

Democrats must run on ending the filibuster as the cornerstone of their effort to win the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives in the fall. The president, and every single candidate across the nation, need to utter the following ad nauseum, “Give us the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and we will eliminate the filibuster on day one.”

This message will resonate and will be increasingly important in Maryland where former Gov. Larry Hogan suddenly poses a real threat to Democrats retaining the Senate. The election can’t be about whether or not Larry Hogan is a nicer guy than Donald J. Trump. That’s a pretty low bar.  It must be about what happens if Larry Hogan helps Republicans take back the Senate.

What then happens on day two (or at least in week 2), you might ask? Democrats move swiftly to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, enact universal background checks to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and ghost guns, enact stricter climate standards, pass immigration reform, protect social security, and expand Obamacare. And yes, codify Roe v. Wade.

That’s a darn good week.

It’s pretty simple: Give people a choice. Show the American public that government can work. Show them that their vote does matter. Show them that who they elect to the Senate and the House makes a real difference. And you know what, if they don’t like it, they can vote for someone else in 2026. Now that sounds like democracy to me.


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Commentary: How the Md. Senate race could impact the fight for democracy