Kyrsten Sinema becomes the main senator blocking filibuster reform – and Democrats’ agenda

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.


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Filibuster reform

Senate Republicans declared their opposition to federal civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans last week, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) promising to filibuster “till I fall over to make sure that the Equality Act doesn’t become law, destroying the difference between men and women.” Right now, there are 29 states where LGBTQ people are not protected by law from discrimination in the public sphere, including housing and lending. The Equality Act would extend laws against gender discrimination across the nation.

The majority of conservatives based their arguments on (1) the idea that civil rights for LGBTQ Americans infringes on religious freedom and (2) fear-mongering about transgender participation in sports and non-segregated bathrooms. As witnesses testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “the Equality Act would not change any pronouncements that are issued by religious institutions…they can determine the standards for inclusion.” The legislation does not even mention sports, as there is no evidence that transgender athletes are somehow ruining sports. Alphonso David, of the Human Rights Campaign, testified that “20 States, the NCAA, and even international Olympic committees already allow transgender athletes to participate and have for years” (transcript).

Finally, Republicans like Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) implied that LGBTQ people are all predators while questioning transphobic author Abigail Shrier. Kennedy: “Would this bill prohibit the boy with gender dysphoria from exposing his penis to the girls?” After some confusion, Shrier responded, “No.” Kennedy and Shrier proceeded to argue that passing the Equality Act would result in children with different genitalia showering and dressing together.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely the Equality Act will pass the Senate without filibuster reform.

  • More: Watch Stella Keatling become the first transgender teen to testify before the U.S. Senate.

Despite spending their time arguing that the Equality Act hurts women, Republicans then went on to vote against two landmark bills for women’s rights. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was reauthorized by the House on Wednesday in a 244-172 vote. Just 29 Republicans voted in its favor; the GOP accounted for all 172 opposition votes, specifically citing the provision adding firearm restrictions for dating partners convicted of domestic violence and another that strengthens protections for transgender women to access women’s shelters.

As of now, it does not appear the VAWA has enough Republican support in the Senate to pass without filibuster reform.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is taking the lead on crafting the Senate GOP’s counterproposal to the House bill… Ernst indicated the gun provisions would be a problem in the Senate. “That’s a big one for a number of us, some stripping away of people’s constitutional rights is not something that we should be doing…”

  • Republicans who voted in favor of the VAWA: Balderson (OH), Bice (OK), Bost (IL), Carter (TX), Cole (OK), R. Davis (IL), Diaz-Balart (FL), Fitzpatrick (PA), Gimenez (FL), Gonzalez (OH), Issa (CA), Jacobs (NY), Joyce (OH), Katko (NY), Kim (CA), Malliotakis (NY), McCaul (TX), Meijer (MI), Miller-Meeks (IA), Mullin (OK), Reed (NY), Simpson (ID), Stauber (MN), Steil (WI), Stivers (OH), Upton (MI), Valadao (CA), Van Drew (NJ), and Young (AK). Ten Republicans did not vote either way: Brady (TX), Carter (GA), Crenshaw (TX), Guest (MS), Kinzinger (IL), Loudermilk (GA), Rosendale (MT), Salazar (FL), Wenstrup (OH), and Wilson (SC). The remaining 172 Republicans voted against the bill. Complete list.

As you can tell from the above, Democratic priorities will continue to fail in the Senate unless the filibuster is reformed or done away with altogether. Since the House passed a massive voting rights bill, HR 1, more Senate Democrats have realized the untenability of the current order and have come out in favor of some kind of change to the filibuster.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has been working behind the scenes to find a consensus to at least soften the filibuster after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) suggested he’d be open to reinstituting a “talking filibuster.” While it wouldn’t fix all of the Senate’s problems – and would, likely, create others – it may be the only way to get democracy-affirming legislation like H.R. 1 passed before the next election.

Merkley: “There’s been a tremendous sea change in the Democratic caucus, saying, ‘We were elected to solve problems, not to apologize because [Senate Republican leader Mitch] McConnell stopped us.’ That excuse will not fly, nor should it.”

In the past week, lawmakers who were previously opposed to changing the filibuster – like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) – announced they’re now open to reform. “Too often the filibuster has been used to block our country’s continued march toward equality,” Heinrich said. “We must change this.”

So far, it seems the main senator standing in the way of the slightest change to the antiquated procedure is Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, which is inexplicable considering the raft of voting restrictions Republicans are placing on elections in her home state. These very restrictions could conceivably cost Sinema her seat in 2024.

Republicans in Arizona’s state legislature have introduced nearly two dozen bills that would make it harder to vote…All of these bills would disproportionately affect Democratic-leaning constituencies, including communities of color that turned out in record numbers to elect Joe Biden by just over 10,000 votes in the state. “They definitely came with a plan to make sure the historic voter turnout we saw in 2020 never happens again,” says state representative Athena Salman, the top Democrat on the House Government and Elections Committee…

“In Arizona, the fate of democracy rests on those pieces of legislation passing and getting signed by the president,” [state representative Athena Salman, the top Democrat on the House Government and Elections Committee] says.

Further reading: “The Senate’s ‘Talking Filibuster’ Might Rise Again,” NYT.

Given the lack of a consensus on filibuster reform, House and Senate Democrats are looking to fit as much as possible into the next, final, budget reconciliation bill. While leadership hasn’t yet decided what to include, House Democrats are reportedly in discussions about using reconciliation to pass HR 3, a drug pricing bill, and HR 2, a green infrastructure bill.

[Congressional Hispanic Caucus] Chair Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) made the pitch for an immigration effort to his colleagues on a private caucus call last week… Senior Democrats, however, acknowledge that such substantial legislation would be difficult — if not impossible — to get past the Senate parliamentarian, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules referee. They say health care and climate related bills are more likely to have a direct budget impact.

Bad behavior

GOP Rep. Tom Reed (NY) announced he is not seeking re-election after a former lobbyist accused him of sexual misconduct, a claim substantiated by numerous contemporaneous accounts. Reed publicly apologized to Nicolette Davis, now a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, saying he was “struggling” with alcohol abuse in early 2017, when the incident occurred. According to Davis, the representative rubbed her back and unhooked her bra during a gathering with other lobbyists at a Minneapolis pub; she asked for help from the person sitting next to her, who escorted Reed out of the restaurant.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) expressed anti-China sentiment and advocated for “lynching” as a form of justice during a hearing on violence and bias against Asian Americans on Thursday. Roy started off well, calling the recent Atlanta-area shootings a “tragedy,” but quickly veered off track.

“My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys,” he said.

What is this rule of law Roy supports? Lynching, of course. “There’s old sayings in Texas about ‘find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. You know, we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.” And who are the “bad guys”? The Chinese government, not the racist, misogynistic white males who tend to perpetuate hate crimes in America. Finally, Roy closed out his time by noting that cartels and racial justice protestors also deserve what he calls “justice.” Clips in page.

Rep. Ted Lieu responded to Roy later in the hearing: “You can say racist stupid stuff if you want, but I’m asking you to please stop using racist terms like kung flu, Wuhan virus, or other ethnic identifiers…I am not a virus. And when you say things like that, it hurts Asian American community. Whatever political points you think you’re scoring by using ethnic identifiers in describing this virus, you’re harming Americans who happen to be of Asian descent. So please stop doing that.” Watch.

The Democratic Party of Texas called on Roy to resign: “It is an outrage, and terrifying, to hear a congressman claiming any connection between lynchings and justice…Roy’s words are a white supremacist dog whistle you can spot from a mile away.”

The House overwhelmingly voted to condemn the deadly military coup in Myanmar on Friday…except for the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus. The resolution, which also calls for the release of all those detained and for those elected to serve in parliament to resume their duties, passed 398-14. All but one of the ‘no’ votes – Rep. Thomas Massie (KY) – were from members of the Freedom Caucus: Biggs (AZ), Boebert (CO), Buck (CO), Budd (NC), Gaetz (FL), Greene (GA), Harris (MD), Hice (GA), Miller (IL), Mooney (WV), Moore (AL), Perry (PA), and Roy (TX). Another member, Rep. Gozar (AZ), voted present.

  • Reminder: Qanon believers vocally supported the Myanmar coup, hoping that such an event would take place in the U.S. to put Donald Trump back into power.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced a resolution – defeated last week – to remove Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) from the House Intelligence Committee after he reported a foreign associate to the FBI. From 2012 to 2015, accused foreign agent Christine Fang helped fundraise for Swalwell’s campaign; he cut off contact and cooperated with the FBI’s probe as soon as he was briefed on concerns about Fang. Of the 211 House Republicans, 200 voted to remove Swalwell from the committee, eight didn’t vote, and three voted “present.”

[House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff] defended Swalwell Thursday… Schiff noted that Republicans — including the panel’s current ranking GOP member Devin Nunes of California and then-Speaker John Boehner — were briefed on the matter in 2015 and raised no concerns about Swalwell’s ability to continue serving on the committee.

“It’s disturbing that Leader McCarthy is attempting to weaponize classified counterintelligence briefings as a political cudgel, and use them to smear a House colleague in the process,” Schiff said. “Members face real counterintelligence risks from sophisticated actors, and bad faith political attacks on Members will only make it more difficult to respond.”

Sen. Ted Cruz is raising money by signing and selling Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” – a book he didn’t even write, mind you – for 12 times its normal selling price. “Stand with Ted & Dr. Seuss against the cancel culture mob to claim your signed copy of Green Eggs and Ham!” a fundraising page for Cruz read.

Furthermore, we have more evidence that Cruz actually broke the law by using campaign funds to promote sales of his book on his official Facebook account, collecting royalties in the process:

In September and October of last year, Cruz’s campaign, Ted Cruz for Senate, paid for 17 ads on his official Facebook candidate page promoting retail sales of his book…The sponsored posts, which Facebook catalogued in its political ads library, feature a video of Cruz telling viewers to purchase his book from third parties, and include links to landing pages on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million. The copy on the Amazon links reads, “Buy my book.”

“This looks like exactly what you’re not supposed to do,” said Jenna Grande, press secretary for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington…

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) failed to disclose up to $90,000 worth of stock trades made in March 2020, instead waiting until December in violation of the law. During the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when most of Congress was focused on crafting an emergency bill to assist Americans during the crisis, Crenshaw was buying tens of thousands of dollars of stocks – days after global markets crashed. The STOCK Act requires all federal lawmakers to report their trades within 45 days. Crenshaw not only blew past that deadline, he also failed to include the transactions in his annual disclosure filed in August.

The day that Crenshaw bought Boeing, markets snapped their brief positive burst, and the company led the boards that day in losses. His investment has now grown more than 38%. Boeing’s employee PAC gave $3,000 to Crenshaw’s 2020 campaign. All of Crenshaw’s purchases have shown returns, with the biggest yields from Boeing, Amazon and Southwest Airlines. Amazon bounced up from about $1,820 a share on March 12 to $2,979 today, and Southwest Airlines rose from around $41 to a little over $60.