Democrats are wasting their own time and credibility on voting rights

Chuck Schumer.
Chuck Schumer. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Democrats are bringing the For the People Act up for a vote in the Senate this week. Frankly it's a huge waste of time.

We already know the act, a grab bag of voting rights provisions, will fail. It won't get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, and — since it lacks the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — it won't even get the 50 votes to achieve a bare majority. The bill is dead on arrival, and all the activity surrounding its arrival on the Senate floor is just so much showmanship.

This is hugely frustrating. Democrats have spent recent months making the case that American democracy remains in peril — President Biden himself emphasized the point just a few weeks ago — and I think they're right. Republicans are right now expanding their power over state election processes, with the apparent intention of tilting the next presidential election in their favor. Democrats in Congress may have only until the 2022 midterms to do something about it, and possibly not even that long. There is limited time to get stuff done, too: After the Senate recesses this Thursday, it will only be in business for 16 of the next 75 days. So why spend time and energy on a bill that can't pass and, as my colleague Damon Linker has pointed out, doesn't really address the central threats to the process?

One answer, of course, is "messaging": By holding this week's vote, Democrats are letting America know they believe voting rights are important. That's how politics works — sometimes you have to make a show of trying to do something, even if the attempt is futile.

But there is a danger that voters will see futile gestures as empty gestures. If Democrats are loudly lamenting that the end of democracy is near, but the best they can do is a useless messaging vote, it might not be unreasonable for Americans to assume that maybe the danger is not so imminent.

Thanks to opposition from Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democrats might not be able to pass a positive voting rights bill in any form. That's terrible. But it's not at all clear that wasting time on this doomed bill is a better option.

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