The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can Our Broken Democracy Be Fixed?

This past weekend Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago. At the same time, Jews were commemorating the liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian bondage. Together the Easter and Passover holidays raise a profound question for all Americans in these troubling times:

Can we liberate ourselves from the growing anti-democratic movement in our nation and resurrect our dying democracy?

Honestly, I am not very optimistic. Afterall, our political leaders seem much more interested in gaining and maintaining power than they are in solving our country’s problems. This is particularly true on the right. As I noted in my last blog, “with few exceptions the Republicans have been total naysayers and obstructionists.”[1]

So, what can we do? First, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in a fight for the very survival of democracy. We must press upon state and national Democratic leaders that this is the case and that they, along with us, must publicly stress that we are in this critical battle to save our democracy.

Second, we must call out by name the great many Republicans and the few Democrats who are blocking the effective functioning of our democracy. For instance, senators like Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, who opposed changing a rule that would have enabled the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act, guaranteeing the right to vote to all Americans.[2] And, the numerous Republicans who are acting to restrict the right to vote in many red states across the country.[3]

Third, we must hold Democrats’ feet to the fire. Voters need to be reassured that President Biden and his party understand their problems and are currently delivering effective solutions. Biden needs to fulfill his pledge to the 43 million Americans with student loan debt to cancel at least part, preferably all, of the $1.7 trillion student debt.[4] We must demand that he keep his promise and do it now.

Congressional Democrats have been trying unsuccessfully to pass Biden’s Build Back Better bill since last summer. Time is running out before November’s crucial elections. Sen. Manchin has been the primary holdout to adopting the legislation. Senate Democrats need to slim the bill down to its most popular provisions – reducing prescription drug prices, tax reforms, and climate investments – which they all can agree on.[5] We must strongly lobby our senators and representatives to adopt the bill immediately and get it on Biden’s desk.

Finally, Americans need to truly understand what putting Republicans in charge of Congress in November would mean. Given how obstructionist they have been as the Congressional minority, it is not difficult to imagine how Republicans could completely thwart any Biden initiative for the remainder of his term in office should they gain control of Congress. Most likely no progress would be made on voting rights, tax reform, prescription drug prices, healthcare, climate change or almost anything else the president might propose to assist most Americans.

So, it is up to you and me. Together we must make crystal clear what is at stake in the coming election. We must call out those who are working to destroy our democracy. And we must demand that our Democratic senators and representatives act now. If our nation is to be liberated from the growing anti-democratic movement in its midst and our dying democracy is to be resurrected, we are the ones who must make it happen.

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://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/democrats-rev-voting-rights-push-end-2021-senate-path-remains-n1286080#anchor-Aperfectstorm

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/19-states-enacted-voting-restrictions-2021-rcna8342

[4] https://www.yahoo.com/news/more-since-biden-found-whether-102000786.html

[5] https://www.vox.com/2022/3/16/22955410/build-back-better-scenarios

The Struggle for the Soul of America: A Build Back Better Act to Save the Democratic Congress and Our Democracy

If Pres. Biden and Congressional Democrats act quickly, they can still pass the Build Back Better bill and protect voting rights in time to save our democracy before the November elections.

Last December I was part of a small contingent of New Mexicans that met with two of NM Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s top staffers. We advocated for:

  • the elimination of all remaining sections of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act to which Sens. Manchin and/or Sinema still objected; and
  • the inclusion of the Freedom to Vote Act, which Manchin and Sinema support, in the BBB bill with a budget item for implementation so it meets (at least in part) the reconciliation process requirements.

While they considered our viewpoint, Lujan’s lieutenants rejected our proposal. For one, they did not believe voting rights belonged in the BBB bill and, rather, should stand alone. Last week that strategy failed when Senate Republicans along with Manchin and Sinema defeated a stand-alone voting rights act by rejecting a change in the filibuster which would have permitted the adoption of the bill.

How To Pass BBB and Voting Rights

Since the Democrats’ previous attempts to pass the BBB and the Freedom to Vote acts have failed, here’s how they should now proceed to have a better chance of success:

1. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has to make amends for his harsh remarks regarding Sen. Manchin’s rejection of the BBB legislation last year. Manchin is reported to be very upset about being publicly called out by Klain after the senator scrapped the bill.[1]

2. Pres. Biden needs to sit down with Manchin and Sinema and together agree on a BBB reconciliation bill in the range of $1.7 trillion. This would include the Freedom to Vote and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement acts which the senators already support. The stand-alone voting rights act couldn’t overcome the filibuster. Inserting voting provisions into the BBB reconciliation bill provides the only chance to enact them. That is because “reconciliation legislation limits Senate debate on the bill to 20 hours and therefore, is not subject to the filibuster,”[2] thus allowing a simple majority to pass the bill.

3. Senate Democrats must rename the bill. Labeling the legislation the Lewis-Manchin Build Back Better Act would recognize and reward Sen. Manchin for his central role in both drafting and enacting this historic legislation. It might also increase Manchin’s determination to have the bill enacted and his name enshrined in history. Additionally, the new name would acknowledge the late Rep. John Lewis’s valiant work in advancing voting rights. And, perhaps most importantly, the fresh title would help to unite the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party in their efforts to win the mid-term elections and save our democracy.

Overcoming the Obstacles to Enacting Build Back Better

A major hurdle to enacting the BBB bill is the requirement that the Senate parliamentarian determine whether sections of the bill meet the requirements for including them in the reconciliation legislation.[3]

However, the parliamentarian’s ruling is only advisory. So, if she determines that voting rights provisions are “extraneous” to the BBB act under the Byrd Rule guiding reconciliation, and must be eliminated, the Democrats would have to override her decision in order to include those provisions in the final bill.[4] In fact, the “law gives the presiding officer – and only the presiding officer – the initial authority to determine if a disputed provision violates the Byrd Rule.”[5] In this case, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the presiding officer and would rule in all likelihood that the voting rights provisions are not extraneous.

Arguing that voting rights are not extraneous, Democrats could assert that inclusion of those provisions in the BBB act is essential to safeguarding major portions of the bill from being overturned by the next Congress. Without protecting the right to vote, millions of Americans’ voting rights are now being severely compromised by state legislatures. That could radically change the composition of the next Congress which then might very well vote to eliminate the budget changes implemented by the BBB legislation, or to refuse to appropriate funding for those changes.

Democrats Must Play Hardball

Sen. Mitch McConnell ignored Senate rules and procedures to deny President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court a hearing on his nomination in the spring of 2016, many months prior to the fall election.[6] Then, when President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch was stymied by the Democrats’ filibuster in 2017, McConnell changed Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority.[7] Subsequently, he ignored established procedures and rammed through the Senate the confirmation of Trump’s nominee by a simple majority right before the 2020 election.[8]

Now Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats must play hardball as well. Bend Senate rules just as McConnell has done to secure what he wanted. Do whatever it takes to include voting rights protection in the BBB Act and get the bill to President Biden’s desk by the end of February. It may well save the Democrats’ control of Congress and Biden’s presidency as well as our democracy. Call Schumer’s office and your senators (202-224-3121) and demand they act now!

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://news.yahoo.com/joe-manchin-reportedly-furious-ron-150015171.html

[2] https://www.ncsl.org/blog/2017/01/13/how-the-congressional-reconciliation-process-works.aspx

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/verify/verify-can-the-senate-overrule-the-parliamentarians-recommendation-could-immigration-legislation-make-the-reconciliation-bill-budget-dreamers-biden/65-008d1307-74bc-42c3-abcf-76865b30c6d3

[5] https://www.legislativeprocedure.com/blog/2021/7/20/immigration-and-the-byrd-rule

[6] https://www.npr.org/2018/06/29/624467256/what-happened-with-merrick-garland-in-2016-and-why-it-matters-now

[7] https://www.npr.org/2017/04/06/522847700/senate-pulls-nuclear-trigger-to-ease-gorsuch-confirmation

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/27/us/mcconnell-barrett-confirmation.html

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Will Liz Cheney and the House Select Committee Bring Trump Down?

(Please note: I’m taking a holiday break. This is my last post of the year. I’ll be back the first week of January. Happy Holidays!)

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol is alive and well. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader of the Senate, recently added bipartisan credibility to the committee’s work when he said, “…what they are seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.”[1]

In fact, the committee is uncovering some very damning evidence regarding Trump and his cohorts’ involvement in the attack on the Capitol. Trump administration officials, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, possessed a PowerPoint that pressed for “the Trump administration to ‘declare electronic voting in all states invalid,’ as well as to declare a national emergency and seize ballots.” The document “called for then-Vice President Mike Pence to seat alternate electors from swing states Trump lost, reject electors from those states or delay the formal count.”[2]

The January riot was a means to that end. The purpose of the violent attack was to stop the Congress from counting the Electoral College vote confirming the result of the 2020 presidential election.[3] After months of falsely claiming that massive voter fraud cost him the election, Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell.”[4] When they did, he was “loving watching the Capitol mob” do his bidding by disrupting Congress’s confirmation of the election results.[5]

But Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican co-chair of the House Select Committee, thinks Trump may have broken the law. Along with her colleagues on the committee, Cheney is now contemplating whether Trump criminally obstructed Congress.[6] If the committee so finds, it would likely refer the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution. And, if Trump were charged and found guilty, the Fourteenth Amendment could prevent him from ever holding public office again. Under the Amendment, Congress has the power to disqualify anyone who has already held a public office from holding any office if they participate in an “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States.[7]

Until very recently, Trump appeared to be gathering steam for another run at the Oval Office in 2024. But a funny thing happened on his way back to the White House. Conservative Liz Cheney, of all people, daughter of that dastardly Republican, former Vice-president Dick Cheney, stood up for the Constitution. Finally, a Republican with moral principles may just help save the nation from the ugliest of Americans, Donald Trump.

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://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/mcconnell-says-jan-6-committee-s-findings-are-something-public-n1286194

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/jan-6-powerpoint-what-we-know-what-we-don-t-n1285910

[3] https://ballotpedia.org/Breach_of_U.S._Capitol_during_electoral_vote_count_(January_6,_2021)

[4] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/01/06/metro/heres-what-trump-told-his-supporters-before-many-them-stormed-capitol-wednesday/

[5] https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-was-loving-watching-the-capitol-mob-white-house-official-2021-2

[6] https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-criminal-prosecution-charges-liz-cheney-january-6-obstruction-congress-2021-12?r=US&IR=T

[7] https://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment14/annotation15.html