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Obstructionism harms the democratic advancement of minorities

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Washington, DC – Below is a column by Maribel Hastings from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish. 

The stagnation of measures in the Senate designed to protect the right to vote in his country is another reminder that, without action on this issue, it’s very difficult to advance legislation on other matters, including immigration and climate change.

The logic is simple and complicated at the same time. If the vote of millions of people who want reform on various matters, including immigration, is repressed, it’s less likely that the politicians who wind up being elected will push for topics of importance to those communities. What can be expected when the next president opposes this reform?  

One doesn’t need to think too hard since we have already lived it with Donald J. Trump and his Machiavellian advisor on migration issues, Stephen Miller, when they implemented draconian measures like separating babies from their parents at the border, among many others. 

Many will say that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, since nothing has happened on the immigration issue under Democrat Joe Biden. Nothing good, we should say, because the Biden presidency has not been able to stop a large part of Trump’s nefarious policies. 

The truth is more elaborate than that. Two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have literally paralyzed the Biden agenda by opposing efforts to change the filibuster rules of the Senate so that a simple majority, rather than sixty votes, are needed to begin debate on a measure. The Democrats have 48 votes and two Independents who vote Democratic. The tie breaking vote is in the hands of Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as president of the Senate. But without Manchin and Sinema, the Democrats remain short.

The chances of changing the filibuster rule are remote and, meanwhile, we enter into a midterm election year where control of Congress—now in Democratic hands by a thin margin—is in play. 

Despite the trauma that the presidency of Donald J. Trump has caused this nation and despite the fact that he led a coup attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the legitimate victory of Biden in the 2020 general election, protecting the right to vote for minorities in the face of attacks from Republican legislatures and governors around the country doesn’t seem to have the urgency it merits among some groups of Democrats. That goes beyond symbolism and wanting the Senate to approve the measures coinciding with the commemoration of the birth of the iconic civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. There is already a superfluousness of symbolism. Action is needed urgently and, by changing the filibuster rules, action is possible. 

Without additional protections at the federal level, the states—especially Republican states who have approved measures restricting the vote for minorities—will do whatever they can to suppress this vote and they will do it through state laws without any recourse for the federal government. 

The result is not difficult to imagine. Suppressing the vote benefits Republican candidates whose agenda does not include the interests of minority voters. Worse yet, some of these Republican legislatures have offered measures to try to rescind the Secretary of State’s electoral certification powers, especially if the result is not to their liking.   

The proposals stuck in the Senate would allow the Department of Justice to step in and protect the rights of voters in states with a history of discrimination against voters of color. 

It’s clear that measures to protect the right to vote and, in this case, their stagnation, do affect other aspects of the legislative agenda—as do archaic rules like the filibuster, that keep measures that would help millions of people, like infrastructure or immigration reform, from seeing the light of day. All because one minority has more power than the majority.  

Ironically, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. himself who explained it so clearly 59 years ago, during the fight to pass the Civil Rights Act, when he said regarding obstructionism: “I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.”

Unfortunately, very little has changed since then.

Read the Spanish version of this column here.