WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Friday’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was “anti-climatic” because the decision had already leaked.
Dozens of House Democrats, rather than join the hundreds of people protesting outside the court, stood on its steps and sang “God Bless America” in celebration of a bipartisan gun control law.
The Democratic National Committee texted supporters to immediately donate $15 to the party.
And Senate Democrats announced a hearing on abortion rights — scheduled for when they get back from recess next month.
On the day a Supreme Court empowered by the anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic provisions of America’s Constitution delivered a deeply unpopular ruling eliminating abortion rights — effectively banning abortion in more than 20 states — the nation’s leading Democrats had relatively little to say that they had not said before.
Their main advice for the people they represent? Vote for us.
“This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives who will codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law,” President Joe Biden said.
“This cruel ruling is outrageous and heart-wrenching. But make no mistake: It’s all on the ballot in November,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added.
For the nation’s liberal-leaning young people, looking at the elimination of one constitutional right and a Supreme Court justice who has already declared his intention to allow states to ban gay marriage and ban contraception, the message proved deeply unsatisfying.
It was one of the few millennials in Congress, 32-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who best exemplified the rage.
“This is not something that’s going to be solved in a day, or in an election, or in a year, because we’ve got to strap in. This is a generational fight,” she said through a loudspeaker outside the Supreme Court.
“We have to fill the streets. Right now, elections are not enough,” she continued. “I’m not going to tell you to drop out, because we need to show up everywhere. We need sand in every damn gear. Elections alone are not going to save us. We need to show up at the ballot box, but that’s the bare minimum.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s relative boldness — her willingness to tell liberals to prepare for a decadeslong fight over the future of the country — contrasts with the November-centric thinking and business-as-usual approach of the Democratic Party’s septuagenarian and octogenarian leaders, who have seemingly little to say about the crisis facing the party.
“This is what it means when Democrats tell people to vote: Cast your ballot into an Electoral College and Senate that is biased against Black people, Latinos and anyone who lives in a large urban area. Hope the Republican Party hasn’t made it too difficult for you to vote. Hope your state has not been gerrymandered.”
The Democratic Party, even with slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, faces obvious and glaring weaknesses going forward. The Senate (and to a lesser extent, the Electoral College) grants rural white voters massively disproportionate power, and Democrats are losing them badly. Black and Latino voters, who make up a significant portion of the party’s base, are clustered in large states that leave them politically weak. A 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is unlikely to shift anytime soon.
The problem has long been set to culminate in 2024 when a number of Democratic red-state senators — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown — face the daunting task of winning reelection when a Republican presidential candidate will likely win their states by 10 points or more. In the grimmest scenarios, Republicans could end up with a filibuster-proof majority in 2025.
Progressives had ideas to fix this problem: Adding D.C. and Puerto Rico as states would make the Senate’s biases less glaring. Eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote requirement would make passing popular legislation easier, potentially winning back some of those disaffected rural white voters. Some suggested adding additional justices to the Supreme Court to counter conservative dominance.
One by one, Democrats tossed these ideas aside. Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema opposed all of them. Others, like packing the court, were popular with even sparser numbers of elected leaders.
There’s another approach, perhaps best associated with the Democratic data analyst David Shor, in which the party reverses its shift to more left-leaning positions on social issues in recent years to win back rural white voters. But the party’s leaders have given little indication they plan to move in this direction either.
So this is what it means when Democrats tell people to vote: Cast your ballot into an Electoral College and Senate that is biased against Black people, Latinos and anyone who lives in a large urban area. Hope the Republican Party hasn’t made it too difficult for you to vote. Hope your state has not been gerrymandered so your vote makes little difference in the House or in state legislatures.
If Democrats manage to overcome those things, they will be hampered by an extra-constitutional 60-vote requirement in the Senate. If they manage to overcome that, their law has to pass muster with a conservative Supreme Court majority that has already displayed its disdain for precedent.
The simple existence of this Supreme Court is a potent display of how voting is not enough. Five of the six conservative justices — John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were appointed by presidents who initially lost the popular vote. The Republican Senate majorities who voted them into office were backed by a minority of Americans.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is the president of NextGen America, the largest group working to turn out young progressive voters. She says she understands where the cynicism comes from.
“It’s so clear that on the majority of issues that Americans agree on, whether it’s gun safety, whether it’s abortion, or whether it’s raising the minimum wage, we’ve seen a stalemate in Washington,” she told HuffPost. “The last decision from the Supreme Court, it just shows fundamentally that there’s something broken in American democracy, where we can have such extreme judges decide what happens to the bodies, the health of millions of people without any accountability, and so out of lockstep with the vast majority of the American public.”
Instead of counting on the politicians, Ramirez has a different approach: Looking at young voters, who are far more liberal than their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts ever were. Millennials and Generation Z are far more likely to say that increased diversity is good for society, to want the government to play an active role in solving problems and to worry about climate change. They’ve launched movements — the March for Our Lives, the Sunrise Movement — that have reshaped progressive politics.
Turning those beliefs into public policy has proven difficult, but it also took the conservative movement nearly five decades — and significant chunks of political luck — to finally manage to overturn Roe v. Wade. And as the number of Baby Boomers declines, millennials and Generation Z will soon make up a majority of the American electorate.
“I placed my hope not in any one singular politician, but in America’s young people that have the power and the numbers to determine a different direction for our country,” Ramirez said, adding: “Voting is the most basic thing we must do, but it is not the only thing we should do. We have to be out mobilizing, marching in the streets and organizing others in our communities. It is not enough just to elect officials and hope they do the right thing.”
Jen Bendery contributed reporting.