The Struggle for the Soul of America: Joe Manchin, the Filibuster and the Right to Vote

The right to vote is the central principle of American democracy. Yet how representative can a democracy be if millions of its citizens are denied the right to vote through hundreds of state voter suppression laws?[[1]]

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the only Democratic senator who is not a co-sponsor of S1, the Senate version of the For the People Act.[2] This landmark Act includes, among other provisions:

·    automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections

·    a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act

·    small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms

·    an end to partisan gerrymandering

·    a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules[3]

Most importantly, the Act would thwart virtually every voter suppression bill currently pending in the states.

Manchin supports the right to vote, but he wants the final bill to be bipartisan. Recently, he wrote, “As the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, we must work toward a bipartisan solution that protects everyone’s right to vote, secures our elections from foreign interference, and increases transparency in our campaign finance laws.”[4]

In an ideal world, I would agree with Sen. Manchin. But in the real world where Mitch McConnell is the intractable leader of Senate Republicans, bipartisanship is unthinkable. Not only did McConnell call S1 a “solution in search of a problem,” but he also flatly denied that GOP lawmakers were “engaging in trying to suppress voters, whatsoever.”[5]

McConnell and his Republican colleagues choose to ignore the Brennan Center for Justice’s recent report that 361 bills to make it harder to vote have been introduced in 47 states in the first three months of this year, overwhelmingly by Republicans.[6] Still, no Republican senator has indicated any support for the Act.

Carving out an exception to the filibuster for voting rights legislation may be the only way to pass S1 and guarantee the right to vote for millions of Americans. But Manchin asserts that he will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.[7]

The ball is in Manchin’s court. He can stick to his bipartisan demands, in which the Republicans clearly have no interest, and be the senator that allowed Republican voter suppression to cripple our democracy. Or he can join his fellow Democrats in supporting voters’ rights, save our democracy and not let a Republican filibuster stand in the way.

Manchin can’t have it both ways. Write Sen. Manchin at 306 Hart Senate Office Bldg, Washington, DC 20510; call his office at 202-224-3954; or email him using this form: https://www.manchin.senate.gov/contact-joe. Demand that the senator stick with the Democrats and support the right to vote for all Americans.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/04/361-voter-suppression-bills-have-already-been-introduced-this-year/

[2] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/1

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/joe-manchin-for-the-people-act_n_605cc780c5b67593e0569de7

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/for-the-people-act-senate-mcconnell-b1821867.html

[6] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/04/361-voter-suppression-bills-have-already-been-introduced-this-year/

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/joe-manchin-filibuster-vote/2021/04/07/cdbd53c6-97da-11eb-a6d0-13d207aadb78_story.html

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Redistricting Conundrum

Redistricting is a red-hot issue this year. Why? Because how states reset their Congressional districts as well as their state legislative boundaries in the coming months will have a critical impact on which party controls Congress and state legislatures for the rest of the decade.

Reforming the redistricting process is one of many reasons why enacting the For the People Act (H.R.1)[1] is essential to ensuring that our elections are fair and competitive. The bill takes redistricting out of the hands of partisan state legislatures by mandating states create independent redistricting commissions to draw Congressional district boundaries.

The measure would prevent both parties from gerrymandering districts favorable to their candidates. However, the Republicans control the majority of state legislatures and, consequently, would have the most to lose with the passage of H.R.1. Right now, many of those Republican legislatures are doing whatever they can to manipulate the electoral process in order to entrench their political dominance.

The most egregious example of GOP power grabbing occurred in Georgia earlier this week. The Republican-dominated State Assembly passed a bill, which Republican Governor Brian Kemp immediately signed, that “gives state-level officials the authority to usurp the powers of county election boards” and effectively change the outcome of an election.[2]

According to one commentator, “the Georgia law is part of a broader wave of GOP efforts, at the state and national level, to undermine the fairness of American elections. What happened in Georgia reveals the true face of the modern Republican Party: a far-right institution that threatens American democracy…”[3]

The For the People Act is the Democrats bold advance to rescue our democracy. It has already passed in the House. Since redistricting will occur in every state this year, the Democratic-controlled Senate must act quickly to eliminate partisan overreaching, as just occurred in Georgia. If the Senate fails to pass H.R.1, the Republicans will likely retake the House of Representatives in the 2022 elections and immediately terminate President Biden’s legislative agenda.

Here in New Mexico, redistricting was a big issue in the just completed 2021 regular legislative session as well. Unlike H.R.1, the N.M. Redistricting Act, SB 304, had bipartisan support. Fortunately, the Act bars a seven-member redistricting committee from considering party registration data in crafting new boundaries. Yet, in making its final decision, the legislature is not required to adopt one of the district maps proposed by the independent committee.[4] Though SB304 is a significant step in the right direction, regrettably, partisan considerations will likely still play a part in the Democratic-controlled legislature’s redistricting efforts.

Thus, H.R.1 is the only equitable solution to the redistricting conundrum. Until independent redistricting commissions are mandated in all 50 states, partisan gerrymandering will continue to unfairly influence our elections. We must urge our senators to support S.1, the Senate version of the For the People Act.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1/text

[2] https://www.vox.com/22352112/georgia-voting-sb-202-explained

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.nmlegis.gov/Legislation/Legislation?Chamber=S&LegType=B&LegNo=304&year=21

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Curse of the Filibuster

Senate Democrats appear to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. On the one hand, Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues are threatening to utilize the filibuster to block President Biden’s legislative agenda on democratic reform, economic recovery, infrastructure, the environment, social justice and other priorities. If the Democrats don’t curtail or eliminate the filibuster, they will fail to deliver on their campaign promises and surely be defeated at the polls in 2022.

On the other hand, if Senate Democrats do move to override the filibuster in order to pass S. 1, the For the People Act, and other critical initiatives, Sen. McConnell warns he’ll use “procedural moves to grind the chamber to a halt and make current gridlock look like ‘child’s play.’”[1] In which case, the Democrats will also likely fail to deliver concrete results and lose in the 2022 elections.

So, what are Democrats to do? Moderate Democrats, like Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are calling for returning to the old “talking filibuster” where senators actually had to stay on the floor and continuously talk to maintain a filibuster.[2] After many hours, the theory goes, the filibustering senators will tire and give up, at which point the proposed legislation would only need a simple majority to pass. Of course, there is no guarantee of their relenting. And the proponents of the measure may be the ones who give up first and withdraw their bill from consideration.

Other Democrats, including moderates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are now convinced that eliminating the filibuster is the only solution. She explained that “the likely demise in the Senate of a House voting rights bill had flipped her…to a ‘yes.’”[3]

Trying to find some middle ground, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is calling for an exception to the filibuster where any bill expanding voting matters would not be subject to the 60-vote cloture requirement.[4] But Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have not agreed to that.[5] How can any Democrat believe that the right of 50 Republican senators to filibuster is more sacred than the right of all Americans to vote? What are they thinking?

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. If the Democrats cannot agree on a way around the filibuster, S. 1 and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act will not pass the Senate. Red states will then have a field day approving voter suppression laws and millions of voters, mostly minorities and youth, will lose the ability to cast their ballots in 2022. The obstructionist Republicans will again control the government. And, the American people’s voting rights and our democracy will be badly wounded, if not outright destroyed.

Earlier this week, Repair Our Democracy issued the following statement:

“Our democracy is under attack, and the For the People Act offers popular, common-sense solutions that will stop the GOP’s assault on voting rights, repair our broken campaign finance system, and root out the corruption that plagues our politics.

"With Democratic control of the White House and Congress, and with support from a vast majority of the American people, it’s time for Senate Democrats to go big on democracy reform. The Senate must move expeditiously to pass this sweeping legislation in its entirety—without delay, without breaking it up, and without the filibuster.

"Recent polling from Global Strategy Group and ALG Research shows that 83 percent of voters support the For the People Act—including 96 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans, and 73 percent of Independents.”[6]

As concerned citizens, we must all advocate for and put maximum pressure on all Democratic senators to find a way out of this potential disaster. The filibuster does not serve we, the people. Call, email or write your senators today and demand that they come together, override the filibuster and save our democracy.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewsolender/2021/03/16/mcconnell-threatens-100-car-pile-up-in-senate-if-democrats-nuke-filibuster/?sh=62d7096836a3

[2] https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwLswKZkjvTzFRnzmMCSxVDtwJG

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/us/filibuster-senate-democrats.html

[4] https://www.vox.com/22260164/filibuster-senate-fix-reform-joe-manchin-kyrsten-sinema-cloture-mitch-mcconnell

[5] https://www.vox.com/2021/3/17/22336181/joe-manchin-filibuster-reform-41-votes-talking-jeff-merkley-senate-rules

[6] https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxwLswLjSXKzPjRKtHlcCbxPwTTq

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Racism, the Relentless Cancer Plaguing America

I saw Judas and The Black Messiah the other night. It’s a very disturbing movie that all white Americans should be required to see. The docudrama tells the story of the FBI’s assassination of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in the late ‘60s.

More than that, the film offers insight into the ongoing black struggle for equality and justice in racist America. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with eradicating the Black Panther Party.  He stated they were “the greatest threat to internal security of the country.”[1] Yes, the Black Panthers were a militant group, but with rival gangs as well as the FBI after them, they believed they had to arm themselves.

What Hampton and the Black Panther movement were actually fighting for was good healthcare and food security for the black community. In the movie, Hampton proclaims his goal of a healthcare clinic to serve his people on the southside of Chicago. By the end of 1969 — the year Hampton was killed — the Panthers were feeding 20,000 kids in 19 cities across the country before they went to school each morning.[2]

Today the black struggle in America continues in a more political vein. Blacks, like Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams, are working overtime to register and get minorities to the polls. They know that obtaining equality and justice for their people must go through the ballot box. 

At the same time, red state Republicans are fixated on eliminating the power of people of color through gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, reducing access to the polls and other voting restrictions. In truth, it’s all just another form of American racism.

Democrats must call out Republicans for the racists that they are. Republican voter suppression laws like those being proposed in Georgia will have a disproportionately negative impact on blacks and other minorities:[3]

“Georgia legislators also want to end early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. That’s the day parishioners in Black churches traditionally vote. Sheer coincidence, no doubt. Lawmakers want to repeal automatic voter registration, too. They even want to make it a crime to give a bottle of water to someone waiting in line to vote.”[4] 

Republicans claim that these proposals are to protect against voter fraud. However, their real purpose is to make it more difficult for minorities, who overwhelmingly support Democrats, to vote. While Democrats can challenge these new restrictive voting statutes in court, there’s no guarantee they would prevail. And, even if they did, the judicial verdicts would likely come too late to affect the crucial 2022 elections.

In fact, the Democrats only practical remedy is to take the control of Congressional elections out of the hands of state legislatures. That is exactly what H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act do.[5] These bills would make our democracy more inclusive and block efforts by state legislators to make it harder to vote.

The bills passed the House without any Republican support. But they will not gain Senate approval unless the Democrats find a way around a guaranteed Republican filibuster steeped in racism. With some Democrats including President Biden still believing in the value of the filibuster, it is not clear how, or if, they will defeat Republican obstructionism.

Will the relentless plague of racism continue to cripple our nation? Or will the Democrats finally stand together, overcome the filibuster and uphold the right to vote for all Americans? It’s time the Democrats did the right thing in order to save our democracy.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.vox.com/2016/2/14/10981986/black-panthers-breakfast-beyonce

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/us/politics/georgia-voting-laws.html

[4] https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/03/11/congress-can-stop-these-gop-voter-suppression-laws-cold-it-just-needs-political

[5] Ibid.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: It’s Now or Never!

2021 is shaping up to be the most critical year for American democracy since the Civil War. The January 6th attack on the Capitol foreshadowed a political period of extreme uncertainty and potential disaster.

At the same time, the first couple of months of 2021 have given Americans substantial promise that the country will soon overcome the COVID pandemic and head toward a more normal way of life. Still, major obstacles may impede progress and ultimately destroy any chance for a brighter future in the near term.

To combat our nation’s health and political emergencies, the House of Representatives has passed and sent to the Senate the 2021 COVID relief bill and HR 1, the For the People Act. What is most striking about both of these bills is their popularity among Republicans throughout the country versus the lack of Republican support in Congress:

  • 59% of GOP voters favor the pandemic relief act, while 77% of all voters do[1]
  • 56% of GOP voters support H.R. 1, the For the People Act, while 67% of all voters do[2]

Yet not one Republican senator or representative favors either bill. With such bipartisan support across the nation, how can this be?

Despite their constituents’ support for relief and reform, Senate Republicans will have none of it. Rather, they would allow millions of Americans, including a great many of their own supporters, to continue struggling. Plus, GOP senators are fighting to block HR 1 and deny the right to vote to as many Americans as possible in order to grab power and maintain minority rule.

Enacting HR 1 into law this year is critical to protecting our democracy. It will restore and expand voting rights, protect the ballot, end gerrymandering and provide election security, among other important provisions.

While Congressional Republicans take issue with some elements of these bills, their overriding concern appears to be political. Though the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, Republicans refuse to concede any authority to the majority party.

Congressional Republicans argue that the $1.9 trillion COVID bill is much larger than what is needed to assist millions of suffering coronavirus victim, health workers, schools, the unemployed, underfunded cities and others. Yet, those same Republicans had no hesitancy in 2017 in passing a huge tax cut creating a $1.5 trillion budget deficit that overwhelming benefited their wealthy donors, multi-national corporations and others who were hardly suffering and really didn’t need such largesse.[3]

Democrats, on the other hand, realize that past relief efforts like the 2009 Recovery Act may have fallen short.[4] They do not want to risk making the same mistake again, especially during the limited time they have the power to help everyday Americans, as well as fix our broken political system.

Senate Democrats must stick together. They must beat back Republican obstruction. As I noted in my February 26th blog, The Critical Fight to Save Our Democracy, “a simple majority of the Senate could ‘carve out’ election-reform legislation from the filibuster. That is the Democrats could vote to exempt any bill that expands voting rights from being subject to a filibuster…”[5]

We must insist that Senate Democrats do just that in order to save our democracy from being subverted by Republican voter suppression, gerrymandering and the like. Write, call and/or email your senators and urge them to protect our democratic rights. If not now, when?

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://morningconsult.com/2021/03/03/coronavirus-stimulus-voter-support-bipartisan/

[2] https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2021/1/22/majority-support-hr1-democracy-reforms

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/30/trump-tax-cut-law-investigation-worker-benefits

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/could-we-have-had-a-bigger-stimulus/2011/05/19/gHQAcBjGzH_blog.html

[5] https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/