Discover more from PREVAIL by Greg Olear
Dems must take the Senate—not in November, but RIGHT NOW. It CAN be done—but it requires a little ruthlessness, a lot of creativity, and more guts than Democratic party leaders have shown since LBJ.
Guest post by Moscow Never Sleeps
They told us that our hero had played his trump card
He doesn’t know how to go on
We’re clinging to his charm and determined smile
But the good old days have gone
—“Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” Murray Head (1975)
“The first abuse of power is not realizing you have it.”
—James Richardson, Vectors: Aphorisms & Ten-Second Essays (2001)
“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
—Omar Little, “The Wire: Lessons” (Season 1, Ep. 8, 2002)
I am writing this on the weekend of the 25th of June 2022. For about eight months I have been toying with this piece, pushing words and drafts around, a petulant kid with his first plate of spinach and liver never really digging in to enjoy the horribly nutritious mess in front of me but knowing that I was never going to get to go out and play until I do. The ruthlessness it implies bothered me. My normal 46 chromosome American conscience blanched at what my vestigial Russian genetic material kept telling me was necessary.
But Friday, any doubt in my mind as to where we are has vanished. The country that brags it invented constitutional democracy is at war with its own love of theocracy, plutocracy, and fascism. The enemy has the Senate and the Supreme Court on its side. Religious fundamentalists are troglodytes. The very rich consider the rest of us to be their slaves and consumption units. The Republican Party with few exceptions is nothing but corrupt opportunistic dogshit. If you do not get that we are at war and that the enemy is evil, stop reading this now and find a blog on basket weaving or sourdough bread recipes. This is for a reality-based audience. This is for people who want to win.
In November, the pigs will take the House, thanks to another ten years of gerrymandering that we might have stopped had the Voting Rights Act passed, no thanks to a neutered Senate. They will probably also get to at least a 51-seat majority in the Senate. They only have two open seats we could conceivably take, and we have at least three vulnerable incumbents in shaky states.
Once they do that, Manchin and Sinema become irrelevant. To make matters worse, Feinstein could wake up any morning and wander over to the other side of the aisle because she can’t remember what party she’s in but the nice man with the face drawn by Dr. Seuss remembered her favorite flavor of Jell-O. President Biden’s legislative agenda will be dead in the water for two years just in time for him to run for re-election pushing his 82nd birthday. Even if one of the Cardinals of the Court dies or resigns, McConnell will simply hold the seat for Trump or DeSantis in 2025, after which time the old reptile will nuke the filibuster, and it’s game over for majoritarian democracy.
And we all know he will do this, otherwise he would not be smirking and grunting like a Giant Galapagos Tortoise showing the audience at the zoo how a sesquicentenarian reptile gets its intromittent freak on.
Voting Rights? If you’re white, no problem. Otherwise, fuck you.
Healthcare? Don’t get sick if you’re not wealthy. Otherwise, fuck you.
Any further federal gun control laws? Hilarious. America is already saturated with more guns per capita than South Sudan and the NRA hasn’t even gotten started on its Paint The Playgrounds Red agenda. If you’re a parent who wants your kids to come home from public school alive every day, fuck you and fuck your kids.
Social Security and Medicare? Reagan started borrowing against them 40 years ago to afford tax cuts and at some point the bill is going to come due. A dead creditor, however, collects nothing. If you paid into these your entire life before the assholes gutted the programs, fuck you.
Education? Infrastructure? The environment? Imagine a government of the Koch Brothers, by the Koch Brothers, for the Koch Brothers. You can probably guess what the Koch family crest motto is.
Separation of church and state? Religious freedom? Well, it all depends on which Church, otherwise you know how the song ends: fuck you, heathen.
Reproductive rights? Women’s rights in general? LGBTQ+ rights? Clarence Thomas made it clear in his concurrence last week that these are for the chop right quick. Unless these are provided in black and white in the Constitution, do not look for the courts to protect social equality against reactionary Republicans even if legislatively codified. This is a country that cannot even pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Go take a look at how women lived in 1975 Tehran and if you still think The Handmaid’s Tale is fiction, fuck you.
Adding new states? Admit it. Even you spat coffee through your nose onto the screen when you read it. The Axes of Evil are never going to let Puerto Rico or D.C. or Guam get two new Senators in the Greatest Deliberative Body on Earth. That would draw House seats and electoral votes from Texas and Florida. If the Republicans could figure out how to get around Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution, they would have New York re-annex Vermont and Massachusetts re-absorb Maine. That way they can disappear one or two safe blue Senate seats and assign more electoral votes to Howdy Arabia and America’s Penis. Re-arranging constituent bodies to more accurately reflect the preferences of the voters? Fuck you in spades.
The Supreme Court itself? When they get the President they want, the chuds will expand it to 11 or 13 and pack the bench with thirty-somethings whose lack of intellectual integrity, eloquent vision, or independent thought make Thomas and Alito look like Holmes and Brandeis. The Roberts Court’s skidmark will drip stercobilin down the legs of the Supremes’ longjohns deep to 2075 and beyond. You want your rights protected against the state, business, and the police? Fuck you, shut the fuck up, and get back in your fucking cage.
They will do this because they have the power, they have the money, they have just enough of the population stupid and Christophrenic enough to think this dystopia is what America is all about.
They will do this because they have been planning this since Ronald Reagan took the mantle of the American Right away from Barry Goldwater and (Mr. Conservative’s warnings about getting in bed with evangelicals notwithstanding) not only let the Bible bashers into the Big Tent of Republican politics but handed them the microphone. Throwing abortion laws back to the cousinfucker states is barely the first step for people who consider Revelations a happy ending.
They will do this because if they do not, their dark money will desert them and the Jacobins within their base of genetic oddities will crucify them like Malachi turning on Isaac in Children of the Corn.
They will do this because they have cooked the way votes are cast and counted in this country for every state and federal office of importance. Even if all the people vote, and even if all the votes are counted, gerrymandering in the House and the C/constitutional defects in the Senate itself ensure that neither body will ever again reflect the will of the majority of the country. Because how else could they win?
But mostly they will do this because we let them. Over the last half century they learned to control the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court without needing a popular majority to get there. In response, we whine like bitches. We raise campaign funding or move product off the spectre of the “radical Republican right,” but we cannot or will not actually make the assholes suffer. Maybe we are exactly as the MAGAts and Trumpanzees say: a bunch of gutless bicoastal snowflakes who thrive on grieving and victimhood, but who ultimately turn our head and cough when they grab us by the balls.
If that’s okay with you, great. Fuck off to your safe space. Maybe bring us back a homemade basket of sourdough later.
But if you want this to have a different ending, maybe it’s time for Sleepy and Schumer and Garland to get a little creative about things, and use what power they still have left to frustrate the ability of the enemy to use the power they’re going to take.
We need to take the Senate back now. Not in November—when we will likely lose it— but now, before it resumes session in September. If we have a majority on the floor we can cashier the filibuster for good, and ram through several years of agenda before we lose one or both houses of Congress in January. Otherwise we will just have another six months of quixotic rhetoric on both floors about the values of democracy, the rule of law, and the equality of all Americans before the fascists take over.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of concession speeches. I say we use the rules we have in place with the resources we have available, and think like the Russians—who contrary to stereotype eschew violence unless bribery and blackmail fail.
I say we actually try to win this thing.
According to a good friend of mine who is a doctored professor of Political Science with a specialty in legislative procedure, spiking the filibuster rule cannot be done by a rules change motion without 67 Senators. But through parliamentary maneuvers, any Democratic Senator in the chamber could ask the Democratic President of the Senate—Kamala Harris or whatever Democrat holds the gavel in her absence—to rule the filibuster out of order. The Senate President so orders and then one of the Republicans objects. This presiding officer’s ruling is then appealed to the full floor. It takes a majority of the senators in attendance to affirm or reject the ruling. That’s why we talk about 51 votes. That’s why when McConnell held the gavel and Trump asked him to do it, the canny old cooter demurred not on the basis of difficulty but of decorum. That’s why people for the last two years have been pulling their hair out over the intransigence of an enforcer for coal barons and a woman-child who simpers and hops around Republican Senators like a lifestyle submissive waiting to ask her Master’s permission to empty her bladder before she goes shopping on his credit cards.
Because Manchin and Sinema are untrustworthy, we will need 53 Democrats on the floor to know that we have that 51. It is inconceivable that we will get any of the Republicans in the Senate to help. Therefore we need three new Democratic Senators to replace Republicans—without waiting for November.
And so we turn to the quilt of state electoral law.
If a sitting Senator dies, resigns, or is removed from office by expulsion, the law of the state represented determines how that seat is filled. Some states leave the seat open until the next scheduled biennial election or they automatically trigger a special election. Some states allow their governors to name an interim replacement, either for a short period until a special election or until the next scheduled biennial. Some of those latter states require that the governor consult with the legislature and/or name an interim of the same party as the departing Senator; others give the governor carte blanche whom to name.
There are seven sitting Republican Senators in five states that currently have a Democratic governor who is legally empowered to name a Democratic interim until this November at the earliest. If three of them were replaced before September, we would have 53 to 47 in the Senate.
Assuming the leadership of the Democratic Party can stop being pussies for the first time since LBJ, here are the replacements to make:
The easiest is Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. This spineless and unmemorable mediocrity is already leaving his seat this winter, probably for a job in the private sector that appreciates his primary skills of being dull, unimportant, and inoffensive. This will provide America with the Reality TV spectacle of watching the sitting Lieutenant Governor run against a guy from New Jersey and betting on whether the former—a physical giant whose rapid weight loss over the last two years has already put him into the hospital once on the campaign trail—is going to infarct during debates with the latter—a cardiologist who owes his fame and fortune to Oprah Winfrey.
Getting Toomey out can be done painlessly, easily, legally, even ethically (for those of you who still feel squeamish), using Step One of the patented Russian political manipulation system: vzyatka. Pay the man to leave early.
There are no laws that prevent anyone elected to federal office from resigning whenever and for whatever reason they wish. There are also no laws that prevent private enterprise from making an offer of employment to someone in office, as long as that person (a) does not remain in office after beginning the job and (b) that offer is not predicated upon acts the person takes while still in office. Hire Toomey for some no-show job like Trump did with Devin Nunes, albeit for a bit more money, and he will exercise his rights to walk out of the chamber a few months earlier than planned. Governor Wolf can then appoint John Fetterman to fill the seat, and Fetterman can campaign from Washington to keep it. Whether he wins or loses in November is irrelevant: we need his votes now on the filibuster issue and on the slate of legislation Nancy Pelosi can ram through the House and send to a Senate under the control of a version of Charles Schumer that has testicles.
The next is Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He’s an example of Step Two: kompromat. As the editor of this publication is fond of reminding us, the traitors are easy to spot, and Senator Bat Boy could not be more obvious if he wore the Russian tricolor on his lapel. From his 4th of July 2018 trip to Moscow to his involvement in attempting to pass a slate of phony electors to Mike Pence before the insurrection to his demarche from his promise not to run for this next term, Wisconsin’s answer to Pat Geary is compromised with a capital K. If the Justice Department or the counterintelligence division of the FBI doesn’t have a fat file on Moscow Ron, then J. Edgar Hoover—who built the Bureau on the twin pillars of “find Russian sympathizers” and “keep files on politicians”—is screaming his Shirley Temple wig off in Hell.
Not surprisingly, the January 6th Committee appears to be the only entity in D.C. that is doing its when it comes to naming names. They have plenty of people testifying that the pasty-faced mole was deep in the false elector gambit, enough that Johnson has thrown out unconvincing and conflicting cover stories all week like a husband explaining to his wife what his prescription for anal scabicide cream is for. In a country with at least as much self-respect as Russia, a thoroughly owned piece of garbage like Two Dick Names would be offered three choices: a small amount of money to fuck off, a public airing of the photograph evidence of his improbity, or a warm bath and a straight razor. Unfortunately, this is the U.S., so if Ya Doesn’t Havta Call Me Johnson opts for Door Number One we will probably have to throw in immunity—but we probably gave that to Trump 35 years ago so why stop now? Just make sure to record the old sturgeon’s confession in case he later meets with an unfortunate ice fishing accident after he is no longer of any use to Moscow.
If Johnson leaves, that gives Tony Evers his one and only chance to tell the gerrymandered legislature of the Badger State to fuck themselves, and name his lieutenant governor, an African-American named Mandela Barnes, to Johnson’s seat for the next few months. Barnes is currently running for the seat himself, but Wisconsin puts more black men in prison by absolute and relative numbers than anywhere else in the country and it probably thinks that’s a lot funnier than sending them to Washington. If the last six years have taught us anything, it is that Northern racism is actually still a thing. We don’t need Barnes in the Senate in January. We need him now, before cheesehead voters pick a Nazi or the Rittenhouse judge.
Now for the harder nuts. Maine has a Democratic governor but Susan Collins isn’t going anywhere. Bribezilla sits in her second or third term beyond her promised exit from the Senate, but her husband Thomas Daffron is a lobbyist about whom nobody in the media is in a hurry to speak, which suggests he manages the kind of wealth that keeps names out of the papers. This being Washington, nobody is going to want their fingerprints on the end of her career and watch whatsisface’s money—the one true god in American religion—smite down the wicked. So we’re going to have to learn to live with her mewling expressions of concern through her peroxided goatee over the peccadillos of fellow Republicans such as perjury and treason. At least until Maine goes back to hand-marked paper balloting. Because this is not yet Russia, there will be no discussion of Step Three: obyektivnie mery. No acute window cancer.
The last four are less household names, but they come from surprisingly red states: Kansas and Louisiana.
The Sunflower State has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1932, but despite a legislature with veto-proof Republican majorities in both houses, it somehow elected a Democrat for governor in 2018. Laura Kelly has solid liberal credentials who benefited from a three way race in which a strong independent peeled off enough purple to red votes from Kris Kobach to get her a plurality in a state without runoffs. Kelly is reasonable, popular, and a competent woman so she’s likely toast in November. If one of the two troglodytes in the Senate resigns before then, she can pull the same kamikaze move as Evers and slide an interim appointment past the legislature and the voters. The question is which.
To paraphrase Greg Marmalard, they’re both awful in their own ways. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran both objected on January 6 to Pennsylvania’s and Arizona’s electoral college votes and then objected to any congressional investigation of the Capitol attacks. Marshall is just your average asshole OB/GYN who loves Jesus almost as much as he hates comprehensive and adequate health care.
But Moran went to Moscow with Johnson and it’s safe to assume that if the Russians have a file on him so do we. He’s also up for re-election in November; checking him now could paint that seat blue until at least 2029. Moran’s net worth is estimated around the internet at $2 million. Pull a Toomey or a Johnson on the man, but get him out and give Governor Kelly something to be proud of before the voters of her state return to their natural stupid condition and toss her out.
As for the Pelican State, Governor John Bel Edwards is in a similar position to Evers and Kelly: a Democratic executive handcuffed by Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, but with two years to go on his second four-year term. It’s an open question whether he would want to risk his legislature’s wrath by naming an interim appointment, and it may be an open question whether he would even need to, but it’s not an open question which Senator’s departure would be better. The answer is actually neither.
Bill Cassidy did not object to the Electoral Vote count, was one of the few Republican Senators to vote to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial, and voted in favor of an independent January 6th commission. He’s the closest thing in the Senate to Liz Cheney. Still, he’s no John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He’s not even John Neely Kennedy.
Frankly, John Neely Kennedy isn’t even always John Neely Kennedy. For a decades he was a Democrat in Louisiana government, rising to the state Treasurer, a competent technocrat with law degrees from UVA and Oxford, without a trace of cornpone in his accent. He even campaigned for John Kerry in 2004. He was Blue as the Bayou.
But when Kennedy saw political advantage, he (being as big of an asshole as he comes off) switched parties, got elected on his third try to the Senate, and for the last six years has channeled Foghorn Leghorn every time there is a hot mic and blinking red light. He bucked Trump on several lower court appointments and voted to toughen sanctions on Russia when Trump tried to relax them—at least until he got back from the July 4 junket to Moscow with Johnson and the others. He’s Arlen Spector with charisma and if he finds himself in a Senate with a legitimate Democratic majority he might flip back. Not that we’d want him, but…
But, you might say, Kennedy went to Moscow. He must have got up to no good there, whatever it was. Why should he stay in the Senate, right after your humble narrator has recommended, let’s call it by its right name, blackmailing Johnson and Moran into resigning?
Kompro is a two-edged sword. Donald Trump enjoyed four years of watching Lindsey Graham squirm over whatever is in that Ganymede’s file and then do whatever he was told. Why shouldn’t Joe Biden enjoy a bit of the same for the next four years with respect to Kennedy and whatever we know he and the other Senators bragged about when they got back to Spaso House?
There you have it. Toomey, Johnson, and either Moran or Kennedy. Three Senate seats with just a bit of monetary and prosecutorial investment. No violence. No broken or even stretched laws. But an effective way to show McConnell and the forces of evil that this is our house and we’re going to make the rules.
With those three seats we can, by November:
Cashier the filibuster by parliamentary procedure.
Pass the backlog of legislation from the House starting with the Voting Rights Act, which will be too late for 2022 but just might preserve a chance of protecting the vote in battleground states in 2024.
Put two to four more seats on the Supreme Court.
Fill them with moderate to left jurists.
Fix the holes in Obamacare that McConnell created back in 2010 when he kept Al Franken from taking Norm Coleman’s seat until after Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy’s.
Codify Roe v. Wade in such a way that the new Court can distinguish and protect it even in the wake of Dobbs.
Rewrite the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in such a way the new Court can overrule Citizens United and its progeny.
Grant statehood to the District of Columbia.
Pass Senate Joint Resolution 1 of the 117th Congress, removing the ratification deadline (lifted in the House by House Joint Resolution 17) to the Equal Rights Amendment, which once in place will provide clear constitutional support outside the right to privacy to women’s reproductive freedom.
The Republicans will hate us for it, which we should wear like a badge of honor. McConnell will squeal and seethe like a turtle discovering he’s mating with a lawn ornament. They’ll excoriate us for overreach (fair) and state that we are out of touch with the average American (bullshit). They’ll threaten that when it’s their turn, we’ll get worse (we’ll get it anyway). But for the first time since 1995, when Bill Clinton broke their backs over the budget shutdown, they just might respect us.
Hell, even the Russians just might.
Photo credit: Original photo is 52 card pick up, by Sharon Drummond.