About a year and a half after Republicans defeated the Manchin-Toomey bill, they regained the Senate majority, thanks in no small part to voter frustration with “Washington gridlock.” The 54 seats Republicans won in 2014 represented 46 percent of the American population. Republicans used that control to block most of the remainder of President Obama’s agenda and, most consequentially, his appointment of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. When Trump won the White House, he filled the seat with Neil Gorsuch, later adding Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett alongside him. Today, they make up half of a six-seat conservative majority poised to strike down much of Biden’s agenda, while McConnell wields Calhoun’s veto in the Senate. Together, these forces can impede desperately needed change, depress the Democratic base—and with help from voter suppression and gerrymandering, return Republicans to majorities in the House and the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, permanently crippling Biden’s presidency.
On and on, the doom loop spins.
Breaking the loop is possible, but only if Biden treats it as a crisis. “It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he observed to George Stephanopoulos last month. Indeed, the question of whether our democracy can perform its most basic function of reflecting the will of all its people, or whether it becomes a force wielded by a white minority to overrule our diverse majority, will be decided on Biden’s watch. If he fails, the window of opportunity will slam shut and may not reopen.
David Frum: The Founders were wrong about democracy
Breaking the doom loop starts with ending or at least eroding Republicans’ electoral welfare through a robust democracy agenda. Although the House has passed H.R. 1, the Senate must do the same, and both chambers must follow that up by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, as well as additional democracy reforms such as Representative Jamie Raskin’s Ranked Choice Voting Act.
Democrats must reform the courts, which are undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. As Quinta Jurecic and Susan Hennessey recently wrote, “The Court has come to more closely represent the interests of a powerful minority,” a fact underscored by the looming threat that Roberts might reiterate his Shelby decision by striking down new voting-rights laws. Biden’s commission is a good place to start, but its recommendations must be aggressive and congressional Democrats must see them through.
Finally, Democrats must fix the Senate. This means rectifying the representational imbalances that enable Republicans to more easily control the Senate. Wyoming, a predominantly white state of about 600,000 people, is represented by two senators, while the similarly sized District of Columbia—where a plurality of the population is Black—is represented by zero senators. Granting D.C. statehood won’t solve the Senate’s underrepresentation of nonwhite Americans, but it will be a step in the right direction. Puerto Rico, whose population is larger than more than 20 states, certainly deserves to become a state as well.