Here’s what we didn’t vote for
Since before President Biden was even sworn in in January up through Biden’s address to Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been insisting that Biden’s agenda to tackle the many significant woes facing our country “was not what Americans voted for”. His evidence is not the fact that Biden won a majority of both the Electoral College as well as the popular vote, nor that the more members of Biden’s party won seats in the House of Representatives, nor that a majority of Americans voted for Democrats to represent them in the U.S. Senate.
Nope. Instead, McConnell’s evidence is that the Senate is split 50–50.
Before even getting into the reasons why that’s a ridiculous data point to judge the real policy interests of the American people (starting with the obvious one that only 1/3rd of senators are even elected each cycle), it’s not a surprise that McConnell would twist such a simple data point into a talking point to defend his obstructive behavior. He’s expert at it.
But it provides a good opportunity to remind people of some extremely democracy-distorting actions by Republicans in the past 20 years that Americans really didn’t vote for that have left our country weaker and more divided.
Here are just four of the most egregious ways that McConnell and his party have thwarted the will of the people:
1. The Presidency of George W. Bush
On December 12, 2000, over five weeks after Election Day and in the middle of a four-county vote recount in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Bush v Gore that George W. Bush was the winner of the 2000 Presidential election. The official record is that Bush won the state by 537 votes, but evidence of Florida Governor and candidate’s brother Jeb Bush’s purge of 58,000 alleged felons from the voting rolls before the election (a purge that removed eligible voters from the rolls and disproportionately affected Black and brown communities, which tend to vote more Democratic); confusing ballot design that resulted in 19,000 spoiled ballots and potentially several thousand voters in heavily Jewish Democratic counties to vote for conservative Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore; and a total of 179,855 ballots being invalidated, still leaves a dark shadow on the accuracy — and legitimacy — of the results. To add insult to injury to democracy, the outcome gave the presidency to the candidate that received fewer votes in the popular count.
2. 20 years of Conservative Supreme Court Packing
One of the main consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court determining who would be president in 2000 is that it initiated the modern U.S. Supreme Court-packing by the GOP. As President, George W. Bush was able to nominate two conservative justices to the nation’s highest court, including the Chief Justice — two seats that would certainly have been more liberal had Al Gore become President.
Since then, Mitch McConnell himself had become more brazen in his work to pack the court in ways that are “not what Americans voted for”. First, as Senate Majority Leader in March 2016, a full eight months before the next election, McConnell outright refused to give President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat opened by the death of conservative icon Antonin Scalia any hearings. McConnell argued at the time that since the election to replace Obama was already underway, the appointment to the court should be made by the next president. McConnell’s “let the people decide” reasoning conveniently overlooked that the people had actually decided — when they elected Obama. Twice. Both by Electoral College and popular vote majorities.
And then, with McConnell’s help, Donald Trump was able to fill three seats on the Supreme Court with conservatives, all under McConnell’s democracy-manipulating circumstances. The first filled the seat that by rules of the Constitution should have been filled by Obama; the second filled the seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy, who timed his retirement to guarantee that he would be replaced by another conservative justice; the third filled the seat opened by the election-year death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The latter opening during the final stretch of the 2020 election led to cries of hypocrisy on the part of Republicans — especially McConnell — who refused to give the democratically elected Democratic president the same opportunity.
McConnell’s court-packing extends to lower courts as well, which has led to a legitimacy crisis in the federal court system, in great part because his actions did not conform with “what the voters want”.
3. Failure of Federal Action on Gun Control and the Undemocratic Rules of the Senate
For at least the past two decades, a majority of Americans have supported many gun control policies that would help end the gun violence in the country. Yet, lawmakers continue to vote down even the most common sense proposals. Specifically in the wake of the unbelievably tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 in which 20 children and seven adults were killed, the U.S. Senate, McConnell’s bailiwick, was unable to act on behalf of the American people because of the undemocratic nature of that body. Even the bipartisan proposal on universal background checks failed on a 54–46 vote. The 54 Senators who voted for the measure not only represent a majority of Senators, but those 54 Senators also represented a majority of Americans. But because of the rules of the U.S. Senate, 60 votes are required to pass legislation, a super majority. And in that way many proposals that are supported by a majority of Americans — one way to understand what voters want — do not pass into law.
In fact, the U.S. Senate is becoming increasingly more undemocratic, even if not unconstitutional. As many readers know (as does Mitch McConnell, whether or not he would ever acknowledge it out loud), the U.S. Senate is not representative of American democratic will. The U.S. Constitution allocates each state in the union two senators, regardless of population. This means that California, the largest state in the union by population, gets two senators, while the smallest 22 states, which represent the same number of people, get 44 senators. Another way to put is that a voter in Wyoming, the country’s smallest state by population, gets 68 times more voting power, than a voter in California.
To McConnell’s argument that today’s 50–50 Senate is evidence that Biden’s agenda “was not what people voted for”: the 50 Democrats and Independents that caucus with them represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican Senators represent.
4. Republican Tax Cuts for Corporations and Wealthy Americans
Perhaps the main thing that American voters did not vote for but yet got from Mitch McConnell anyway was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). The law itself is best known for its cuts to corporate and high wealth individuals’ tax rates. Supporters argued that it would be a simplification of the tax code and that the taxes would “pay for themselves” in increased investments and job creation, while opponents argued that it was a giveaway to the already well-off and would not address the economic challenges facing middle and lower income Americans.
Despite the fact that a majority of the American public never supported the bill, it passed in December 2017 with all Republicans voting in favor, and all Democrats and Independents voting against. In fact, leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, polling showed that Americans still didn’t support the tax cuts, which seemed to surprise the Trump, McConnell and other Republicans who had been banking on the bill to win them votes that December (pun intended).
And it appears that the tax cuts have not actually resulted in significant corporate investments in jobs for Americans nor have they paid for themselves. Instead they appear to have allowed corporations to get off without paying anything in federal taxes and have increased the deficit while also increasing the shameful level of economic inequality in America. That was not what Americans voted for. But it’s what Mitch McConnell wanted to deliver to donors of Republican candidates, so he pushed it through anyway.
The fact is that polls are showing that a majority of Americans support Biden’s agenda for economic support for American families, investment in our country’s infrastructure and jobs, increased taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, shoring up election laws, including limits and disclosure requirements for wealthy and corporate donors, and an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
For so long — indeed, ever since the Democrats became the party of civil rights under Lyndon Johnson and the Republicans became the party of white voters — elected Republicans have run elections on culture war themes but once they get into power, they push “free market” economic policies that have concentrated wealth upward often to the economic detriment to the voters that got them elected in the first place. The fact that McConnell can’t accept the fact that Americans actually voted for, and continue to support, Biden’s agenda, reflects the long-standing Republican disrespect for Americans.
Instead of making a conservative policy case against Biden’s agenda to take to the American people to win their votes, McConnell is once again, engaging in partisan obstruction. Now that is not what Americans voted for.
First published May 2, 2021