Jul 4, 2022 • 5M

How Democrats can still protect reproductive rights and the planet

The must do it when they return to Washington after July 4 recess. If they don't, why should anyone vote for them in the midterms?

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Robert Reich
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich exposes where power lies in our system — and how it's used and abused.
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I have no patience for all the handwringing by Democratic lawmakers in Washington over the Supreme Court’s regressive decisions on abortion and the climate. “This MAGA, regressive, extremist Supreme Court is intent on setting America back decades, if not centuries,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last Thursday after the Court dumped its final opinions for the term.

Well, yes. So what are you going to do about it, Chuck? Last I looked Democrats were still in control of the Senate and House and the presidency. Which means Democrats still have the power to effectively overrule the Supreme Court on reproductive rights and the environment. They must now pass a national abortion rights act which will preempt state laws banning abortions, and a Clean Power Plan that will eliminate the Supreme Court’s argument that Congress never authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to do this.

These moves are not only crucial to the nation. They’re also critical for Democrats facing midterm elections four months from now. Reproductive rights and the environment are hugely galvanizing issues for Democrats and Independents.

Some Democrats I talk to expect to lose control over both houses of Congress in the midterms, regardless.

Rubbish. Defeatism is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Midterm elections are all about turnout. Young people and college-educated voters made all the difference in the last midterms in 2018 — giving Democrats control of the House by a wide margin.

While young people usually don’t pay much attention to midterm elections, a record 36 percent of them voted in 2018, in contrast to 20 percent in 2014.

Turnout of college-educated voters — another critical voting constituency to the Democratic Party, and also a majority of Independents who vote in midterms — also spiked in the 2018 midterms.

True, Trump was a driving force for both groups in 2018. But it’s not as if Trump has disappeared. His attempted coup continues to this day. Nor would the Supreme Court’s extraordinary rightward lurch on reproductive rights and the environment have occurred but for Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees.

It’s also true that Democrats have to cope with a filibuster in the Senate. But they need only fifty votes (plus the Vice President) to carve out exceptions to the filibuster for reproductive rights and for environment. Carve-outs from the filibuster are not uncommon. There have been some 160 of them, including one for confirming Supreme Court nominees (courtesy of Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans). If Republicans regain control of the Senate, you can bet they’ll carve out exceptions to the filibuster for whatever they want to do. They may abolish the filibuster altogether.

But can Senate Democrats even muster 50 votes for such carve-outs? Joe Manchin and Kyrstin Sinema have signaled before they they won’t go along.

Even if Manchin and Sinema were reluctant to agree to such carve-outs before, the situation has changed dramatically now that the Supreme Court has reversed Roe and stopped the Clean Power Plan. If reproductive rights are going to be preserved and the planet protected, Democrats must unite, and Manchin and Sinema must join them. If they won’t, let the nation see.

Don’t let Republicans off the hook here, either. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski is up for reelection this fall. She talks a good game about reproductive rights and about the environment. Last February, she and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins introduced the Reproductive Choice Act, to prevent women’s reproductive choices from being weakened or eliminated. And she co-authored with Joe Manchin an oped in the Washington Post about the importance of ending climate change. Hell, Utah’s Mitt Romney just published a piece in the Atlantic entitled “America is in denial,” warning about climate catastrophe. Okay, Mitt: Unless you’re in total denial that the Supreme Court just gutted the Clean Power Plan, you have to join with Democrats to carve out an exception to the filibuster for the environment and then vote for the Plan.

It’s time for Democratic lawmakers and anyone else who cares about reproductive rights and the environment to act. Now. At least hold votes and put lawmakers from both chambers on record. Paint a clear contrast ahead of the November midterms. Give voters a reason to turn out.


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