“We are not saying an all-out procedural fight guarantees success. But when our fundamental rights are on the line for a generation, our elected leaders have a responsibility to exhaust every option before conceding defeat.“
This week, after mourning the loss of pathbreaking icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hundreds of Rhode Islanders rallied at the offices of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse with an urgent call: to fight the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court pick by any means necessary.
Our most fundamental rights to bodily autonomy, to free and fair elections, to accessible healthcare, and to a livable planet are on the line. And while Democrats do not have a majority in the U.S. Senate, they can still fight Republican’s seizure of our courts — if they are willing to use the procedural tools at their disposal.
The Senate runs on the unanimous consent system. That means that Senate Democrats have the power to grind the chamber to a halt by systematically denying unanimous consent agreements on every motion Mitch McConnell wants to make. They can stop committees from meeting more than two hours after the Senate convenes, making it harder to schedule confirmation hearings. They can force Republicans to produce quorums on their own, keeping GOP senators tied down in DC rather than campaigning for reelection back home.
And though Senator Whitehouse dismissed this strategy, saying, “If there were a triple secret procedural strategy that would allow us to [block confirmation], I think we probably would have done it,” he seems to misunderstand what his constituents are calling for. We are not demanding a triple secret silver bullet. We’re echoing people who understand Senate procedure as well as anyone in the country — strategists like Harry Reid’s former deputy chief of staff — who are arguing that Democrats’ best bet is to use these tactics to block and delay confirmation for as long as possible. We are not saying an all-out procedural fight guarantees success. But when our fundamental rights are on the line for a generation, our elected leaders have a responsibility to exhaust every option before conceding defeat.
This strategy — of using every tool available to actually wield power — has been Mitch McConnell’s approach for years, and it has been far more successful than Democrats’ “don’t rock the boat and hope voters reward us” strategy. We are dealing with a fundamentally antidemocratic movement. The GOP has not won a majority of voters for President or Congress in years. They have zero democratic legitimacy to set our laws today, let alone for the next two or three decades. To worry about decorum and propriety at a moment like this is like worrying about deck chairs as the Titantic sinks.
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Of course, we agree with our senators about the need to maintain a laser focus on the election. So many of the activists protesting this week are also volunteering for Democratic campaigns across the country — for example, I have been hosting weekly phonebanks for Rhode Islanders who have been making thousands of calls into battleground states for Biden. But there is no tension between winning in November and throwing sand in the gears of this illegitimate seizure of our courts. Indeed, in a world where the Supreme Court may well decide the outcome of a contested election and Trump is actively signalling that he plans to contest this election no matter what happens, we can’t claim we’re doing everything possible to win in November unless we’re doing everything possible to halt Trump’s SCOTUS pick.
We are in the fight of, and the fight for, our lives, and we have every right to expect our elected leaders to join this fight by any means necessary. As people whose rights are hanging in the balance, we are asking that Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse commit right now to using every power they have to shut the Senate down — and we pledge that when they step up and lead this once-in-a-lifetime fight, the people of Rhode Island will be with them 100% of the way.