Democratic Voters Want Senate Reform Now: Campaign Week in Review

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Democratic Voters Want Senate Reform Now: Campaign Week in Review

Dennis Carter

Ambitious pro-choice efforts likely wouldn’t pass the U.S. Senate without reform.

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Likely Democratic voters support reforming the U.S. Senate

Likely Democratic primary voters want the U.S. Senate reformed to end the filibuster and make it easier to pass progressive legislation, according to survey results from Data for Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

The Data for Progress survey, released Wednesday, shows reforming the Senate is particularly popular among Black, Latino, and women voters, along with self-identified liberal or very liberal respondents. Black voters were most supportive of reforming the Senate55 percent said they’d back the effort to ensure legislation could pass with a simple majority rather than 60 votes. Thirty-eight percent of self-identified moderates support Senate reform.

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“Consistent with their policy preferences (and likely in many cases, lived experience) Democratic voters reasonably infer that the best strategy to pass legislation going forward is to take away power from the minoritarian Republican Party rather than try to persuade them to do what’s right,” Data for Progress researchers wrote. 

Ambitious pro-choice efforts, such as the codification of Roe v. Wade or elimination of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, likely wouldn’t clear the Senate, even if Democrats held a majority.

Candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination have approached reforming the Senate in various ways.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) became the first presidential candidate to endorse reforming Senate rules, Politico reported last April. “I’m not running for president just to talk about making real, structural change. I’m serious about getting it done,” Warren said. “And part of getting it done means waking up to the reality of the United States Senate.” 

U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said he wouldn’t push for senators to change the chamber’s rules, but would instead use the “budget reconciliation process” to pass legislation with 51 votes. Sanders said last year that reconciliationhas been used time and time again to pass major pieces of legislation and that under our Constitution and the rules of the Senate, it is the vice president who determines what is and is not permissible under budget reconciliation.”

“I can tell you that a vice president in a Bernie Sanders administration will determine that Medicare for All can pass through the Senate under reconciliation and is not in violation of the rules,” Sanders said. 

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told the Intercept in 2019 that reforming Senate rules to allow bills to pass with 51 votes has to “be on the table because our sense of fair play among Democrats has bitten us far too many times for us to be naive about it.”

In 2017, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) signed a bipartisan letter in support of keeping the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Support for Supreme Court Expansion Doesn’t Create a ‘Backlash’ 

Campaigning on expanding the number of seats on the U.S. Supreme Court would hardly pose a massive political risk to Democrats in the 2020 election, according to research released Monday by Take Back the Court, a group advocating for judicial reform.

The survey results “suggest that while Republicans may feel slightly more warmly toward their in-party following exposure to a court expansion message, there is no electoral implication on likelihood of voting, vote choice, or withholding economic support from the Democratic Party,” wrote the study’s authors—Aaron Belkin, a political science professor at San Francisco State University and director of Take Back the Court, and James N. Druckman, a political science professor at Northwestern University.

“Indeed, it appears that concerns about Democrats possibly motivating Republicans to turnout if they endorse expanding the Supreme Court are unfounded.”

“Our experimental results show that candidate endorsement of court expansion does not produce an electoral backlash or benefit.”
-Take Back the Court study’s authors

Democratic presidential candidates, who gathered this month at a New Hampshire forum to discuss reproductive rights and the federal courts, have staked out a range of positions on Supreme Court expansion.

Druckman and Belkin concluded that Democratic presidential candidates talking up the benefits of expanding the Court wouldn’t have the unintended consequences some fear.

“Our experimental results show that candidate endorsement of court expansion does not produce an electoral backlash or benefit, as it has no statistically significant impact among respondents living in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota … on likelihood of voting, vote choice, or willingness to forgo a personal financial reward, and only a small statistically significant impact on partisan affect in some conditions,” the authors wrote.

The survey involved 2,400 people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota.

No Mention of Abortion Rights at Nevada Debate 

Advocates bemoaned the lack of reproductive rights discussion at Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, where candidates clashed on numerous issues but were never asked about the nationwide attack on abortion access.

It’s been par for the course: Reproductive health and rights barely got a mention during December’s Democratic presidential debate. Moderators at January’s debate in Iowa didn’t ask about abortion rights at all, even as Iowa Republican lawmakers pushed a near-total ban on abortion.

“The exclusion of abortion from the national conversation, just days before the Nevada caucuses, does a severe disservice to voters,” Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement. “While there is a world of difference between Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates on reproductive health and rights, there is too much at stake to ignore this issue.”

The Nevada caucuses take place Saturday.