What I’m reading Six books now on my nightstand — Robert Reich

Several of you have asked for my summer reading recommendations. I know this is a bit late, (whatever happened to June and July?), but all of these are worth the wait (and the weight — these aren’t exactly light books).

 

Dirt Road Revival, by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward. This is the most thoughtful and uplifting book I’ve read in a long time. It’s written by two young political organizers in Maine (one of whom is now a major force in the state legislature) about how grassroots progressives can regain the trust of America’s Trumpers. Riveting and important.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s a moving and trenchant novel whose major character, it turns out, is our planet.

Dignity in a Digital Age, by Ro Khanna. The progressive and talented congressman from Silicon Valley provides a convincing blueprint for a society in which prosperity is widely shared.

Only the Rich Can Play, by David Wessel. Wessel knows Washington as well if not better than anyone reporting on it, and in this books provides a clear-eyed look at how wealth and power have distorted and corrupted our nation’s capital.

The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality, by Lily Geismer. An important object lesson in how means became confused with ends when Democrats tried to gain and hold power by giving the oligarchy what it wanted. I have lived much of what she reports.

The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America, by Ira Shapiro. McConnell comes off even worse than you know in this trenchant and disturbing account of the man who brought us the most reactionary Supreme Court in ninety years.

Going Big, by Robert Kuttner. An important argument about how progressives and Democrats could do far better politically if they were more ambitious.

The Ministry of the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. A taut and powerfully-written novel about what the future may hold.

 

What are your best summer reads so far?

Saving American Democracy: Focus on the Senate Elections, Corporate Leaders Need to Include Impact on Democracy in Company Political Spending Decisions

Guest Column
Saving American Democracy: Focus on the Senate Elections, Corporate Leaders Need to Include Impact on Democracy in Company Political Spending Decisions
By Ira Shapiro


There was a time, in early 2021, to believe that our nation coming out of Covid, having elected Joe Biden president, and responding to the shocking January 6 attack on the Capitol, could begin to heal its divisions. Of course, that hopeful moment was fleeting. America is by all measures even more bitterly divided than at any time since the Civil War. That was true even before the shattering Supreme Court decision to overrule Roe v. Wade, eliminating, for the first time in history, a constitutional right on which millions of Americans relied, fundamental to women’s equality and freedom. Now, buoyed by their victory, opponents of abortion push for further restrictions and outright bans in states across the country. On the other side, abortion rights advocates will “harness rage over the decision to take to the streets, fight back in the courts, and push the Biden administration to do more to protect abortion rights,” reported Kate Zernike in the New York Times.

Amidst this frenetic activity, Democrats should not lose sight of the one thing that can most dramatically change our politics in the short term: winning Senate elections. Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans gave America this radical Supreme Court through a corrupted confirmation process that blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court in 2016; abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017; confirmed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 even after the National Council of Churches opposed his nomination; and rammed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett eight days before election day in 2020 after fifty million people had already voted. Of course, McConnell and his Republican caucus also stayed silent while Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen poisoned the nation and triggered the attack on the Capitol, and then refused to convict Trump even after he was impeached for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

Off year elections are notoriously difficult for the party in power; with inflation surging and Biden’s approval rating tanking, the political environment has rightly been described as “brutal” for the Democrats. But the Senate map is favorable: the Republicans are defending twenty seats, the Democrats only fourteen; five Republicans retirements have produced open seat opportunities for Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina, where strong Democratic candidates will be running against extreme Republican nominees. Several Republican incumbents—Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio, and Chuck Grassley—are potentially beatable. Democrats need to channel their despair and anger into focused political action. A Senate with 54-56 Democrats, instead of 50, would make it possible to change the filibuster rules, continue confirming progressive judges, and put major pieces of the Democratic agenda before the country in advance of the 2024 presidential election.

Seeking to regain the Republican Senate majority, McConnell has supported the infrastructure legislation, aid to Ukraine, and most recently, the bipartisan legislation which represents the first modest Congressional action to reduce gun violence. Democrats and independents should not be deluded by his effort to avoid the Senate Republicans being tagged as complete obstructionists. It is time to hold McConnell and the Senate Republicans accountable: for the radical Supreme Court they have given us; for their failure to protect America from Trump’s assault on our democracy and his unhinged leadership during the pandemic; and for constantly blocking action to address our most urgent problems. We have been living, and dying, in McConnell’s America far too long; the November elections are our chance to end his destructive reign.

With our democracy hanging by a fraying thread, each of us needs to assess whether he/she has done enough to preserve it. The corporate community bears particular responsibility; with a few notable exceptions, business leaders have continually underestimated how dire the threat to democracy is or found justifications to continue their usual pattern of political contributions. This can no longer be the case. Corporate leaders need to include the interest of their stakeholders and their company and the type of environment — a vibrant democracy — that benefits both as they weigh how to approach political spending.


Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade ambassador, is the author of three books about the Senate, most recently The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America. He can be followed on Twitter @shapiroglobal. His website is www.irashapiroauthor.com.


CPA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization created in November 2003 to bring transparency and accountability to political spending. To learn more about the Center for Political Accountability visit www.politicalaccountability.net.

An eighth term for Sen. Chuck Grassley?

With the Senate primary elections over, Iowans face the decision between Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democrat Admiral Mike Franken. There will be time between now and November for Admiral Franken to try to convince Iowans that his record of military service would make him a valuable addition to the Senate. But even before that, the basic decision should be faced squarely: whether to give Sen. Grassley, who has already served 42 years in the Senate, another six-year term.

Grassley’s decision to run again at age 88 is not quite completely unprecedented, but it is highly unusual. Senators, of course, are not term limited, but Senate history shows a strong pattern. Howard Baker of Tennessee, the universally admired Republican leader, retired after three terms (18 years). Mike Mansfield of Montana, the universally admired Democratic leader, retired after four terms (24 years). For decades, many respected senators reached essentially the same conclusion. Those who retired after three terms included Republicans John Danforth, Alan Simpson, Trent Lott, Lamar Alexander, Nancy Kassebaum, William Cohen, and Olympia Snowe, and Democrats Bill Bradley, Howell Heflin, Abraham Ribicoff, David Pryor, and David Boren. Those who retired after four terms included Republicans Mike Enzi, Pat Roberts, and Don Nickles, and Democrats Sam Nunn, Joseph Lieberman, Dale Bumpers, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Barbara Boxer, Alan Cranston, and Kent Conrad.

Some senators served longer; even as the Senate became increasingly dysfunctional, many senators stayed for five terms (30 years). But the retirement decisions of those senators also fall into a pattern. As they approached the thirty-year mark, usually in their late 70s or age 80, they realized that it was time to leave, rather than commit to a year of campaigning and then six more years in the Senate. Iowa’s Tom Harkin made that choice at age 75. Others in this category include Republicans John Warner, Mark Hatfield, and Jesse Helms, and Democrats Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Jeff Bingaman, and Patrick Leahy (who is retiring at 80, after seven terms.). These men and women understood that part of their responsibility, to their states and the nation, was to know when to step aside and let the torch of leadership pass to a younger person.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but generally they end badly. Carl Hayden, at 91, mistook a phone booth for an elevator, walked in, and said: “Down.” Robert Byrd, one of the greatest senators, who was a powerful opponent of the Iraq War at the age of 85, became a shadow of himself before dying in office at 92. Strom Thurmond, who died in office at 100, was a joke and an embarrassment; virtually unable to speak or hear, he had to be carried into committee meetings. More recently, Dianne Feinstein chose to run at age 85, won another term, and tarnished her storied career; her decision to run is regarded by her friends and admirers as a tragic mistake.

Fully aware of these examples, good and bad, Sen. Grassley decided that seven terms are not enough for him. He apparently cannot conceive of life without being in the Senate, or regards himself as indispensable, or both, but his decision clearly shows egregiously bad judgment, which is not going to improve between ages 89 and 95.

It is possible that, deep down, Sen. Grassley knows what he should have done, but was prevailed upon to run one more time by Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Grassley has sacrificed his independent judgment before at McConnell’s request. In July 2020, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ill-health, Grassley said that if he were still chairing the Judiciary Committee, he would not take up a nomination to the Supreme Court just weeks before a presidential election. But after Justice Ginsburg’s death, since he was no longer chairman, Grassley cast a decisive vote in ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation eight days before Election Day. Despite his stature and experience, Grassley did something he knew to be wrong, which had profound consequences for the Senate, the Court, and the American people.

As a former Senate staffer and now a Senate historian, I’m one of many Democrats who has admired Sen. Grassley’s cantankerous independence over the years. But he has already had the extraordinary privilege of being a United States senator for forty-two years— more than five times longer than the eight years that any president is allowed to serve. Retiring honorably after having served long and well, as Sen. Harkin or former Republican Gov. Bob Ray did, should have been an easy call for Grassley. The fact that he couldn’t do it calls to mind one of the most familiar cries in politics: “Time for a change.”

Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration official, is the author of three books about the Senate. His new book is “The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America.” His website is www.irashapiroauthor.com.

Ira Shapiro predicts dark legacy for McConnell in The Betrayal — The Blueprint

While Shapiro covers the Senate’s response to the Trump administration in chronological order, somehow his book reads as a horror story that continues devolving until the insurrectionist denouement.

Stephen Wentzell — May 26, 2022


Fewer presidencies have resulted in more controversy than that of Donald Trump. From firing the FBI director and mischaracterizing the Mueller Report, to seating three Supreme Court justices and surviving two impeachments, Trump survived scandal after scandal.

How a president can withstand such devastating derelictions of duty is the subject of Ira Shapiro’s new book, The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America, where Shapiro makes the case that McConnell aided and abetted the Trump presidency to the bitter end.

Shapiro is uniquely positioned to write about McConnell’s leadership after spending more than a decade working in senior positions in the U.S. Senate as well as serving as Bill Clinton’s chief trade negotiator with Canada and Japan. Overall, Shapiro spent 45 years in Washington focusing on international trade and national politics.

While Shapiro covers the Senate’s response to the Trump administration in chronological order, somehow his book reads as a horror story that continues devolving until the insurrectionist denouement.

Shapiro has written two other books about the Senate, but in an interview with The Blueprint, he explained what sets The Betrayal apart from the others.

The idea for The Betrayal came months before the Jan. 6 insurrection, during the summer of 2020. During this time, Shapiro was calling for governors to take the lead in forcing Trump to resign, referring to the former Trump Steaks creator as “an unhinged president during a pandemic,” who was spewing misinformation, rallying Republican governors against Blue State governors, and ignoring the experts on COVID-19.

But for Shapiro, there was something even more worrisome at hand: Trump was signalling he wasn’t going to respect the results of the election.

“I think the Trump presidency was a catastrophe for the country [but] the catastrophic failure of government was the Senate,” Shapiro said. “They’re the ones who were supposed to check the president.”

While the Senate’s purpose has always been to keep checks and balances on the presidency, McConnell has weaponized the institution to protect the Republican party and its president at all costs.

“Most senators show a willingness to balance their commitment to the party with their own independent judgment,” Shapiro noted, adding their six-year terms provide senators with more independence than members of Congress who serve for two years at a time.

Shapiro’s book begins with three distinct quotes, but for this reviewer, the most powerful of all came from George Ball in 1964: “He who rides the tiger cannot choose where he dismounts.”

The Betrayal captures the highs and lows of McConnell’s career, with Shapiro recognizing that few political figures have had such a significant impact on American politics as the current Senate Minority Leader.

But that legacy, Shapiro explains, is mired by a dereliction of duty and an underestimation of Trump’s depravity. Calling McConnell “an exceptionally skillful politician [and] a master strategist,” he says McConnell has been undeniably effective at accomplishing his political goals. Unfortunately, Shapiro added, those accomplishments have been to his personal benefit and Republican power, “at a great cost to the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the United States as a nation.”

While Shapiro condemns the actions of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6, he recognizes that many of them believed they were doing something patriotic simply because their president asked them to.

The Betrayal concludes in the aftermath of Jan. 6, with McConnell speaking out vehemently against Trump in public but voting to acquit the president when push comes to shove. For Shapiro, the insurrection only strengthened his argument, noting that Republican senators couldn’t bring themselves to convict Trump even after their lives were put in danger by the domestic terrorists incited by their president.

Ending the filibuster and a return to governing with conscience

Over the years, the filibuster has become one of McConnell’s greatest political weapons. By requiring 60 votes to end debate, McConnell has prevented legislation on voting rights, pandemic supports, and even a Supreme Court Justice nominee’s confirmation in 2016.

Now, Shapiro says, is the time to get rid of the filibuster, saying the tool has become “corrupted over time.”

“I grew up at a time in the Senate working there when filibusters, we like to say, were real but rare,” he said.

While many pundits fear that ending the filibuster could backfire on Democrats if Trump wins a second term in 2024, Shapiro believes the only way to stop them is “with some people of conscience.”

“If you have an institution that’s blocking government action, year after year, that’s not a workable institution,” he explained.

In his book, Shapiro referred to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation—which took place after millions of Americans had already voted in the 2020 Presidential election—as the Banana Republic Confirmation.

“I found it to be a terrible act and shockingly disconnected from anything resembling our democracy,” Shapiro told me. While he explained that McConnell’s blocking of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court was an act of unprecedented hardball, arguably, at least the voters had some say in deciding the next justice. “In this case, [McConnell] took that away from the voters, ramming through a confirmation eight days before election day, after 50 million people had already voted,” he said.

Shapiro said that after finishing his second book on the Senate in 2018, he felt a moderate and cautious sense of optimism that Congress could rise to the challenges posed by Trump. Led by the political independence of Republicans like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and the late John McCain, Shapiro believed there was a core group of Republicans—that occasionally included Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski—who would be enough to keep Trump in check. That optimism, while admittedly unjustified, served as the blueprint for The Betrayal.

“One thing I learned was that I had an idealized view of the Senate and Senators,” Shapiro told me. “Based on my experience and what I had seen, heard, and learned, I would have thought if things got bad enough, they would step up. And that was wrong.”

Ultimately, Shapiro says he wrote The Betrayal in an effort to play some small part in the fight for democracy. In a plea to the GOP, Shapiro urged Republicans to strive to be their best selves rather than do things they consciously know are both wrong and anti-democratic.

Will they heed Shapiro’s call? Only time will tell.

Longtime Senate staffer sears McConnell and his caucus in ‘The Betrayal’ — JPR

Published May 16, 2022 at 10:01 AM PDT

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is comfortable using all the tools at his disposal to achieve the goals of his Republican caucus.

Ira Shapiro is one of several people looking on the scene in dismay. Shapiro was a senate staffer many years ago, working with some of the powerful (and bipartisan) figures he profiled in his book The Last Great Senate.

Shapiro puts his focus squarely on McConnell and his work during the Trump presidency in a new book. The title alone pulls no punches: The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America.

The author joins us to add detail to his a story of a senate acting very differently from how it approached its business in decades past.

How Mitch McConnell Made the Senate Even Worse

Republican power grabs and hyper partisanship are just part of his grim reign as Senate Republican Leader.


met Ira Shapiro in 1976, when I joined a Senate committee as staff designee for Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson; Ira was working for Nelson at the time, and we became friends. (We still are.) Ira worked in the Senate over decades, crafting the body’s code of ethics and serving as chief of staff to West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller; he moved on to distinguished service as general counsel to America’s trade representative and to law practice, but he never lost his love for the Senate and its people. His first book, The Last Great Senate, reflected on the way the body functioned in its halcyon days, when we both worked there, with norms dedicated to solving national problems even as its structure and rules made it difficult and at times impossible (see, for example, civil rights). A large number of great statesmen—and an occasional stateswoman—elevated the discourse and when necessary rose above partisanship and pettiness.

The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America
By Ira Shapiro
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 294 pp.

By Shapiro’s second book, his view of the Senate had changed; the title, Broken, made that clear. It wasn’t that the Senate was bereft of quality individuals who might have been considered giants in a different era—it was the overall political dynamic, including political polarization and the decline of the center, the rise of tribal media and social media, and the willingness especially of Republicans, from their first majority in decades during Reagan’s presidency up to Donald Trump’s first year in the White House, to shred norms that had characterized the Senate of the 1960s and ’70s, making a focus on the essential problems of the nation more and more difficult to resolve. Shapiro also put a spotlight on the role of Mitch McConnell.

If Broken at least had a modestly hopeful side—the wish and belief that somehow the Senate could find its way back to some semblance of its former self—his third book, The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America, has none of that, and the spotlight on McConnell gets brighter and sharper and bleaker. Shapiro defines his thesis this way: “The story of the Senate’s rot is first and foremost the story of Mitch McConnell.” Toward the end, he describes McConnell with some admiration for his considerable skills, but with a damning summation:

McConnell was no “political hack”; he was a superb political strategist and tactician who had never lost an election. He successfully surfed the madness that had engulfed the Republican Party since the rise of Newt Gingrich thirty years earlier to become the most powerful Senate leader in history. More than any other person, he had diminished Obama’s presidency and had helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. With Trump in the White House, McConnell engineered the radical transformation of the Supreme Court and stacked the lower federal courts with right-wing judges; his legacy was secure. Very few people, including presidents, have ever put more of a stamp on our country. What McConnell lacked was a moral compass that would cause him to rise above political calculation.

McConnell’s early years in the Senate did not presage his amoral and ruthless behavior. His role model and mentor, John Sherman Cooper, was a moderate and highly ethical Republican, who would undoubtedly be appalled by the actions of his protégé. The transformation over his Senate career is best described in Alec MacGillis’s superb book The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell. But Shapiro takes that portrait and applies it to the McConnell of the past five-plus years. If there is no new reporting here, the cumulative impact of the analysis is damning. In The Betrayal, Shapiro sets out to chronicle key events of the Barack Obama and Trump presidencies, through the beginning of Joe Biden’s term. Much of the book details those key events, starting with the financial collapse that defined the end of George W. Bush’s term and the beginning of Obama’s presidency. House Republicans first rejected the urgent, bipartisan call for an emergency bailout just before the 2008 election and then caved, a plan supported by McConnell. But when Obama became president, McConnell pivoted, with the support of most of his GOP colleagues, into obdurate opposition—even in the face of a dire threat to the U.S. and global economies. As Shapiro puts it, McConnell for the first time was “the opposition leader. He began immediately to transform a Senate struggling unsuccessfully to rise above the polarization of American politics into a bitterly partisan, paralyzed Senate where no effort would be made to overcome the divisions.”

Shapiro guides the reader through the highlights—or lowlights—of the Trump presidency through the prism of the Senate, including the massive tax cuts and attempted repeal of Obamacare, the rush to jam through judges and justices, and, of course, the impeachment. Along the way, a man with no charisma and a visage that reminds many of a turtle was almost Svengali-like in keeping his members in line. The striking element of the tax cuts and the attempted repeal of the health law was the degree to which McConnell threw out the “regular order” to accomplish his ends. Instead of having the bills go through the Senate committees, with hearings, markups, and amendments, he convened a rump group of Republican senators behind closed doors to write the bills, leaving out key members of his own party in addition to shutting out Democrats. But despite sidelining most of them, McConnell did not lose any of his own on the tax cuts, although he did lose the key vote of John McCain on the repeal of Obamacare.

While much of the ground Shapiro treads in the book is familiar, he manages to pull it together in a way that resonates. So much has happened of consequence in the past several years that it is easy to forget each element and how they are tied together. And it is clear that the Senate was pivotal—using and misusing the rules to stymie Obama, including his nominees for executive positions and especially judges; filibustering every initiative big and small; and then protecting and coddling Trump and his corrupt nominees from any significant consequence.

While McConnell’s pledge to make Obama a one-term president failed, the process of disruption and division worked well enough to give the Republicans the Senate majority in the midterms in 2014. That victory meant that McConnell could shatter even more Senate norms when Antonin Scalia died almost a year before the end of Obama’s term. The failure to give even a hearing to Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, was a shocking sign of how the Senate had changed, giving McConnell the ability to fill the post when Trump prevailed in 2016. If Senate Republicans were uneasy about the flagrant breach of norms, they stayed silent—and then voted in lockstep when the long-delayed vacancy was filled by Neil Gorsuch.

Then came the first impeachment, built on the shocking, traitorous behavior of a president who blackmailed the president of Ukraine, in dire need of help in the face of Russian aggression, to get dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The evidence of perfidy was clear, and shown in full relief in the House impeachment hearings, but Senate Republicans made sure the consequences would not fall either on Trump or themselves. The acquittal was foreordained, but the reaction of so-called moderate Republicans in the aftermath was embarrassing. Maine’s Susan Collins famously said, “I believe that the president has learned from this case,” while then Mississippi Senator Lamar Alexander said, “Enduring an impeachment is something nobody would like … I would think you would think twice before doing it again.”

McConnell’s Senate was not just a body of “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” when it came to Trump; it was also a body where truth no longer meant anything and hypocrisy was the norm. During the 2016 campaign, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina promised that if an opening occurred in the Supreme Court in Trump’s last year in office, Republicans would wait until after the next election. In 2018, Graham told attendees of the Atlantic Festival, “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process is started, we will wait until the next election. And I’ve got a pretty good chance of being the Judiciary chairman.” Of course, the opening came, with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Graham, along with many other Republicans who had made the same promise, jammed through the confirmation of the radical right-winger Amy Coney Barrett barely a week before the 2020 election. Every Republican save Collins voted to confirm her, one of the most shocking, in-your-face violations of norms in the history of the Senate. We are just beginning to see the dire consequences of this in radical Supreme Court decisions disrupting the fabric of American life.

Shapiro takes us through the debacle of Trump and the pandemic—with no pushback or oversight from Senate Republicans as Trump downplayed the virus, and failed to take any of the steps that could have limited it or prevented massive deaths and incapacitation—and then, of course, the road that led to the January 6 insurrection, the second impeachment of Trump, and his second acquittal. At the impeachment trial in the Senate, McConnell gave a blistering attack on the president, but, predictably, voted for his acquittal. That did not stop Trump from calling McConnell “a dour, sullen, unsmiling political hack.” Trump showed no appreciation for the reality that his presidency, with all its outrages, scandals, traitorous behavior, and widespread corruption, had been saved over and over by McConnell.

Of course, larger trends in society and the political system are larresponsible for the current cancer in the American polity, a cancer that has metastasized from Washington to the states to the public as a whole. The Republican Party was on its way to becoming a radical cult before Donald Trump came along, and before Mitch McConnell became his party’s Senate leader. But individuals can matter in shaping the environment and determining the course of events. And McConnell has mattered—in a way that ensures he will be in the top list of villains when the history of this sorry period is written. The evidence to bolster that judgment will include Ira Shapiro’s The Betrayal.

How Mitch McConnell Wrecked the Senate

Obstructionist under Obama, battering ram under Trump, and a threat to democracy in both guises. An exclusive book excerpt.


The disgraceful performance by the Senate Republicans at the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Jackson shows that they pose a continuing threat to the mutual respect, civil discourse, and good faith that are essential to the working of our democracy. Senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz are obviously unrepentant for the near-death experience that they put our democracy through by failing to check Donald Trump’s abuses of power.

Make no mistake: the Senate’s performance during the Trump presidency is the story of the most catastrophic failure of government in American history. That failure undermined the rule of law and threatened our constitutional rights. It deepened our divisions, pitting red states against blue states, whites against Blacks. It endangered our national security, weakening our alliances and strengthening our adversaries. It caused many thousands of Americans to die needlessly before their time. It led directly to the insurrection at the Capitol.

Most American history is written about the presidents—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan—or great events like the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression, World War II, Vietnam. Donald Trump’s aberrational presidency has already been the subject of more than 1,200 books; at least 1,200 more will emerge in the years to come. People here and around the world will ask how America, the greatest power in the world, elevated to the presidency a celebrity reality TV star with no experience in government, whose tumultuous business record, deeply flawed personality, abuse of women, and hatred of minorities were all plainly visible.

But in the American constitutional system, no one person—not even a president—should be able to undermine our institutions and jeopardize our democracy. The framers of the Constitution wanted a strong central government because the weakness of the Articles of Confederation showed the limits of what the states could accomplish on their own. But having fought the American Revolution to free the colonies from Great Britain and its monarch, our founders feared the possibility of an overreaching executive who would seek to become a king or an autocrat. They also feared that a president might be corrupt, pursuing personal gain instead of the national interest, and that he could be susceptible to powerful foreign influences.

Consequently, the founders designed a system of checks and balances, the most distinctive feature of which was the Senate. They made it the strongest upper house in the world, with the power to “advise and consent” on executive and judicial nominations, to ratify treaties, and to hold impeachment trials. James Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1787, called the Senate “the great anchor of the government.… Such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.”

The Senate would be assigned many functions, but it had one fundamental responsibility: to be a bulwark against any leader who would abuse the great powers of the presidency in ways that threatened our democracy. Some 230 years later, when just such a president finally reached the White House, the Senate should have been democracy’s strongest line of defense. Instead, a nightmare scenario followed: the Senate, weakened from a long period of accelerating decline, proved utterly incapable of checking Trump’s authoritarian desires. Sometimes the Senate Republican majority aided and abetted Trump; often it simply stood by and allowed him to rampage unchecked. America had no defense against the novel threat presented by the unholy alliance between Trump and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in a moment of anger, correctly observed that the founders had not contemplated the combination of “a rogue president and a rogue majority leader.”

The magnitude of the Senate’s failure should be clearly understood. The Senate did not fail because of its arcane rules or because of the abuse of the filibuster. It wasn’t because its members lacked the ability to do their jobs. Nor did it fail because the senators missed the danger signs. The overwhelming majority of the Senate knew that Trump was incompetent, corrupt, and dangerous; indeed, many saw him as a witting or unwitting agent of Vladimir Putin.

No, the Senate failed because its Republican members, led by McConnell, abandoned the late Senator John McCain’s guiding principle: “Country first.” When it mattered most, the Republican senators put their personal political interests first, the Republican Party’s interests second, and country’s interests nowhere. As America faced unprecedented, cascading, intersecting crises, the Republican senators chose to stand with Trump, either actively supporting him or silently acquiescing. Some undoubtedly convinced themselves that Trump would wither away or that they would find an exit ramp. But as George Ball, the State Department official who famously dissented from the escalation of the Vietnam War, observed: “He who rides the tiger cannot choose where he dismounts.”

There is a familiar Sicilian proverb, “A fish rots from the head.” The story of the Senate’s rot is first and foremost the story of Mitch McConnell. He was an unyielding obstructionist during the Obama presidency, culminating in his refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. In contrast, McConnell became a relentless battering ram with Trump in the White House. He rode roughshod over one Senate custom, norm, and tradition after another. After Trump shocked the world by winning the presidency, America urgently needed a strong Senate, with a leader in the mold of Democrat Mike Mansfield or Republican Howard Baker, politicians who are rightly remembered as great statesmen and patriots. Instead, America got McConnell, a superb political strategist and tactician who was extraordinarily effective in achieving his partisan objectives, at great cost to the Senate and the country that depended on it.

Of course, even McConnell, the most powerful Senate leader in history, could not have done what he did without his troops. Throughout the Trump presidency, McConnell had only a very narrow majority with which to work. At any moment, three or four Republicans could have stopped him in his tracks. This happened exactly once, in July 2017, when John McCain, dying of brain cancer, memorably joined Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in defeating McConnell’s brazen attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without hearings, committee action, or floor debate.

Just as McConnell enabled Trump, the other Senate Republicans enabled McConnell. Except for Mitt Romney, who cast the only Republican vote to remove Trump from office in the first impeachment trial, all the Republican senators were complicit. The shameless Lindsey Graham, who had been John McCain’s best friend and Donald Trump’s most scathing critic, spun 180 degrees to become Trump’s favorite golf partner and McConnell’s wing man. Less verbose and simply shameful, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman, two once-superb public servants, allowed themselves to become virtually invisible at every moment when their voices and their stature would have been useful to call attention to Trump’s abuses of the presidential office.

In the crisis year of 2020, one of the darkest in American history, McConnell and his Republican caucus exonerated Trump after his first impeachment despite uncontroverted evidence that he withheld military assistance from Ukraine to benefit his presidential campaign by damaging Joe Biden, his strongest potential opponent. They averted their eyes as Trump lied about Covid-19, hawked fake cures for the virus, attacked blue state governors, and mocked masks and social distancing—a deluge of misinformation that caused thousands of needless deaths. They opted for silence when Trump invited his supporters to indoor rallies at the peak of the pandemic. They allowed Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen to poison the thinking of 70 percent of his voters—roughly 50 million Americans. They roused themselves to action only long enough to ram through the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court eight days before Election Day. A dozen of them refused to certify the Electoral College results, providing an opportunity for the January 6 assault on the Capitol. The Senate’s Republican members did not just fail; they betrayed their oaths of office, sacrificing American lives and American democracy.

America has paid a terrible price for the experiment with Trump, a narcissistic outsider and disrupter, with authoritarian impulses and contempt for our democratic institutions. But it is McConnell, the political stalwart and faux institutionalist, who poisoned and undermined our political system from within, transforming the Senate into a hyper-partisan battle zone, draining it of the trust and pride that made it work in its great days, while using it for his own purposes. Years before Donald Trump became president, we were living in Mitch McConnell’s America; even with Joe Biden in the White House, to a greater extent than might have been anticipated, we still are.

Midterm elections pose an enormous challenge for the party that holds the White House, but the Democrats have a favorable map for the 2022 Senate elections. A Senate with 53 or 55 Democrats, instead of the current 50, would bring about a sea change in American politics. In a time of crisis and uncertainty, we can be sure of one thing. America will not have a decent politics or a functioning government unless the power of Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans is sharply reduced. They must be held accountable for their past failures and prevented from inflicting any more harm.

This essay is adapted from The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America, to be released May 17. Reprinted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 


Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade official, is the author of The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America and The Last Great Senate.

Impeachment trial: The six Republican senators Trump and McConnell should worry about — USA Today

Impeachment Trial: The Six Republican Senators Trump and McConnell Should Qorry About

Historic Trump impeachment calls for a new chapter in 'Profiles in Courage.' From Alexander and Collins to Murkowski and Romney, 6 possible authors.


Since the 2018 elections produced a Democratic majority in the House, every discussion about impeachment has begun and ended with the assumption that the Republican-controlled Senate would brush aside any impeachment, line up behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and exonerate President Donald Trump. As Brookings scholar William Galston told The Washington Post last fall, “There's a reason why 'Profiles in Courage' is a very short book.”

This historic moment would be a good time for a new chapter. If we look at individual senators, men and women facing the most consequential decision of their careers, it seems quite possible that Trump’s presidency does not rest on a strong foundation; rather, it hangs by a slim thread.

Just four Republican senators will make the difference between a quick, cursory trial and calling witnesses who could turn the tide toward conviction and removal. Here are six GOP senators who might do Trump in:

Mitt Romney of Utah. The former Republican presidential nominee called Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “wrong and appalling.” This reaction was predictable from Romney, who spoke out against Trump in 2016 and has continued to be critical. In an October interview with USA TODAY, Romney, 72, described himself as free to do "entirely what I believe is absolutely right. ... And I hope that my kids down the road will say, 'Yeah, you know our dad, our grandfather, our great-grandfather was a person of integrity and honored his oath of office.' ” That sounds like a man who is ready to draw a sharp contrast with Trump.

Maine's independent tradition

Susan Collins of Maine. Collins disappointed many supporters and friends, including me, when she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and she faces a very tough reelection campaign this year as a result. But Collins has proved her independence in the past. She angered McConnell by backing President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus in 2009 and opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Collins came to Washington in 1974 to intern for then-Rep. William Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which was then considering President Richard Nixon's impeachment. She also played an active role in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. Collins cherishes her position in Maine's long line of  independent senators — above all, the iconic Margaret Chase Smith, whose statement of conscience attacking Sen. Joseph McCarthy came more than four years before the Senate and the country turned against him.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Murkowski’s reaction to Trump’s treatment of Zelensky was instantaneous: “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period.” She has expressed discomfort with McConnell’s outspoken commitment to coordinate trial strategy with Trump. Murkowski waged an unlikely write-in campaign to win reelection to the Senate in 2010 after losing to a Tea Party extremist in a primary. She stood alone among Republicans to oppose the Kavanaugh nomination, and she joined Collins and Sen. John McCain of Arizona to block repealing the ACA. This headline from Alaska Public Media captures her fierce independence: “Murkowski, true to form, breaks with GOP colleagues on ethical questions about Trump.”

Greg Nash

In praise of Susan Collins’ persistent bipartisanship — The Hill

In praise of Susan Collins’ persistent bipartisanship — The Hill

 

After Susan Collins, the veteran Republican senator from Maine, cast the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in October 2018, she instantly became the target of angry Democrats across the country determined to defeat her in 2020. Yet despite a tidal wave of activism, outside money and an impressive opponent, State House Speaker Sara Gideon, against her, Collins was reelected comfortably to a fifth Senate term, by nine points, even as Joe Biden won Maine by the identical margin. In a bitterly polarized America, where ticket splitting had become a thing of the past, Maine was the only state that produced such a divergence between the presidential race and the Senate.

The notoriously independent Maine voters got it right. Collins immediately repaid Maine’s voters, and the country, by spearheading a group of moderate senators — Democrats, Republicans and independent Angus King(Maine) — to produce a $900 billion coronavirus relief package, breaking the months- long stalemate that inflicted suffering on millions of Americans and threatened to derail any economic recovery. This year, Collins plunged back into the bipartisan effort to produce the largest piece of infrastructure legislation ever passed.

This is nothing new for Collins, who first came to Capitol Hill at the age of 21 to work for Congressman William Cohen (R-Maine), who served on the House Judiciary Committee considering the impeachment of Richard Nixon. Collins later worked for Cohen as a Senate staffer through 1986, and then returned to Maine to join the cabinet of Republican Governor John “Jock” McKernan. When Cohen unexpectedly decided to retire from the Senate in 1996, Collins upset Maine’s former Governor Joe Brennan (D) to win the Senate seat. Understandably elated to be a senator, Collins was struck by how much more partisan the Senate had become in the ten years since she left Capitol Hill.

From her arrival, Collins has tried to help recreate the Senate in which she came of age: a Senate based on trust and mutual respect, which could legislate through principled compromise and bipartisanship. She has also been determined to serve Mainers, and the country, as an independent player doing what she thinks is right.

In 2009, Collins defied great pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to become one of only three Republicans who made it possible to enact President Obama’s economic stimulus legislation. In 2017, she joined John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in thwarting McConnell’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In 2020, Collins was the only Republican to vote against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrettrammed through the Senate in the closing days of the presidential campaign. She later became one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Other senators have stepped forward to work for a more bipartisan Senate — most notably, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), but also Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), King and Murkowski. This year, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has been a tireless architect of the bipartisan infrastructure effort.

The emergence of this group is heartening; as Warner put it after the strong Senate vote to advance the legislation: “Everybody knows what people’s strengths and foibles are. If this group of people had not worked together before, I don’t think we would have gotten there.”

But Collins was playing the independent, bipartisan role long before the others came to the Senate, and those decades of experience and accomplishment count. She was among the first Republican senators to congratulate Biden on his victory, stepping forward as others stayed silent, allowing Trump’s lies about election fraud to spread. Her friendship with Biden, grounded in 12 years in the Senate together and a similar approach to legislating, has been critical to legislative accomplishments since the election.

Collins cast the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh based on reasoning that was unpersuasive. And Collins undoubtedly regrets her naïve expression of confidence that Trump learned something from his first impeachment. But men and women who spend their lives in what Teddy Roosevelt memorably called “the arena,” should not be judged against some standard of perfection. Every person who has ever been in politics (with the possible exception of Lincoln) has made mistakes, or taken decisions that they later regret. It is Collins’ overall record that distinguishes her. America has been in a long period of poisoned, polarized politics, during which the Senate, which depends on bipartisan comity, has spiraled downward.  Against that fierce tide, Collins has managed to be a real senator, putting country over party, and a positive force for good for America.

I was a Senate insider once, but that period ended 35 years ago. In writing about the contemporary Senate, I have chosen not to speak to current senators, including Collins (a friend from our Senate staff days). I rely on public sources to assess what senators and the Senate have said and done, or have not said and done. Having an idealistic view of what senators can accomplish and what the Senate should be, I was shocked and angered by the failure of McConnell’s Senate to perform the fundamental responsibility that our founders gave it; checking a renegade president whose abuses of power threatened our democracy, and whose irrational behavior caused several hundred thousand Americans to die needlessly.

It falls to this Senate, led by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to work with Biden and the Democratic House to bring back our country. I have no doubt that Collins and the bipartisan group that has emerged will continue to play a crucial role.


Ira Shapiro, the author of “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis and Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?” is completing his Senate trilogy with a book about the Senate during the presidencies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Illustration by The New York Times, Photograph by Saul Loeb/Getty Images

How Joe Manchin Could Make the Senate Great Again — The New York Times

How Joe Manchin Could Make the Senate Great Again

The United States urgently needs a functioning Senate, which operates, in the words of the former vice president and senator Walter Mondale, as “the nation’s mediator.” Unfortunately, what we have instead is a body that, among other things, cannot pass a bill to create an independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection or to defend national voting rights.

Senators must confront what has proved to be a debilitating obstacle: the legislative filibuster — more precisely, the minimum 60-vote supermajority requirement for most legislation.

This problem has fallen to Senate Democrats, who hold a narrow majority, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia will be a decisive vote for any reform of the arcane rule. Mr. Manchin has defended the need for the filibuster, often citing the legacy of his predecessor Robert C. Byrd.

Mr. Byrd was the keeper of the Senate flame: The longest-serving senator and its foremost parliamentarian and historian, he never stopped believing that the Senate was “the premier spark of brilliance that emerged from the collective intellect of the Constitution’s framers.”

He might be an inspiration to senators like Mr. Manchin as they consider the filibuster, but that inspiration should push against devotion to an outdated, often abused and damaging rule. The filibuster should not shape the workings of the Senate, but the other way around. For Mr. Byrd and other senators of his era, the overriding goal was to ensure not that certain rules were respected above all else but that the Senate could deliver for the nation — even if it meant reforming rules like the filibuster.

The arc of Mr. Byrd’s half-century career in the chamber is instructive. In the deliberations around the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he conducted one of the most disgraceful filibusters in Senate history, joining a two-month effort by Southern senators to derail the landmark legislation. But about 13 years later, Senate Democrats showed their confidence in his changed attitude by making him majority leader. He repaid their trust by becoming one of the greatest leaders in Senate history (and later expressed regret for that filibuster).

Mr. Byrd once said that “filibusters are a necessary evil, which must be tolerated lest the Senate lose its special strength and become a mere appendage of the House of Representatives.” But his later actions clearly demonstrated a changed view of the uses and potential abuses of the filibuster. The nightmare scenario of a paralyzed Senate that could not pass urgent legislation was always on his mind.

When he became Senate majority leader in 1977, Mr. Byrd confronted an ingenious form of obstruction utilized by Senator Jim Allen, a conservative Democrat from Alabama — the postcloture filibuster. Mr. Allen found a way to delay the passage of bills by filing numerous amendments and requesting attendance calls even after 60 senators had agreed to invoke cloture, meaning that debate was coming to an end.

Mr. Byrd recognized this obstruction as a mortal threat to a functioning Senate. Working with Vice President Walter Mondale, who was presiding in the Senate, Mr. Byrd moved forcefully to crush the next post-cloture filibuster in 1978 (this time brought by two liberal Democrats).

At the beginning of the next Congress in 1979, Mr. Byrd and the minority leader, Howard Baker, created a bipartisan group that worked out a major revision of the rules to curb the use of postcloture filibusters. In the 1980s, Mr. Byrd orchestrated a series of parliamentary rulings to further restrict the filibuster.

Filibusters used to be real but rare, reserved for truly major issues. The constant use of the filibuster as a partisan weapon is a product of the past two decades, particularly the last 12 years, correlating with the Senate’s downward spiral into bitterness and gridlock. When the Senate was at its best — from the 1960s through the 1980s — it regularly had intensive debates and passed major legislation without filibusters. The Senate often approved landmark legislation with fewer than 60 votes, including the loan guarantees needed to rescue New York City in 1978 and the Chrysler Corporation in 1979. Each passed with 53 votes, because the senators were satisfied that the issues had been debated fully.

It is fundamental to the distinctive nature of the Senate that the minority party must have its rights protected. But the best way to do that is through regular order — a legislative process that involves public hearings, committee work in which bipartisan understanding of issues develops and principled compromise occurs, and a vigorous amendment process and serious debate on the Senate floor, leading to a final vote, with the majority prevailing.

Moreover, there is no convincing rationale for establishing two classes of legislative action. It should be unacceptable that the $2.1 trillion tax cut in 2017 or the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act could be done by majority vote (through reconciliation) but that 60 votes are required before helping the Dreamers, requiring background checks for guns, combating climate change or protecting the right to vote.

A Senate that operates by majority vote empowers Mr. Manchin and other dealmakers from both parties because their votes become decisive. A minimum 60-vote requirement empowers obstructionists, particularly one named Mitch McConnell, who has turned the Senate into a partisan instrument to block Democratic presidents from governing.

This year, Mr. McConnell disabused any naïve observers who thought his long relationship with President Biden would change his behavior, getting every Senate Republican to oppose the president’s popular American Rescue Plan. Mr. McConnell more recently stated that he was “100 percent focused” on stopping the Biden administration. He deserves to be taken at his word but not permitted to hold the Senate, and our country, hostage.

Today’s Senate includes many able public servants on both sides of the aisle. They should give themselves the opportunity to work with the Biden administration to hammer out the laws that America needs rather than lock themselves into preordained paralysis and failure.


Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer, is the author of “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisisand “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?