The Senate Rules Committee met Tuesday to mark up its version of the For the People Act, the major voting rights and election integrity bill that Democrats have been trying to pass since 2017. The debate went better than I expected, but on the whole, to paraphrase the Bard, the GOP doth protest too much, methinks.
This isn't to say that all of the GOP senators' proposed amendments were bad or that the bill as introduced is perfect. But to hear Republicans tell it, the legislation was designed specifically to prevent the GOP from winning any election ever again. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., at one point called the bill a "power grab in search of a crisis" and several times warned that the Democrats were trying to turn the country into a one-party state, like Venezuela.
But nobody, and I mean nobody, can match Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when it comes to wasting a committee's time with lies, stunts and bad-faith arguments. From his opening statement, he made it clear that he wasn't there to try to make the bill better:
I listened to Senator Schumer's speech where he recounted this country's shameful history of Jim Crow laws. And he's right, Jim Crow laws were bigoted, racist, and disenfranchised millions of people. It is worth remembering that those Jim Crow laws were drafted by Democrats, they were implemented by Democrats, and they kept Democrats in power. Now, today's talking point repeated in the media is that was the Democrats of yesterday, not today. Well, today, the Democrats are doing it again, this legislation, to use a phrase that has been popularized on the media recently, is Jim Crow 2.0. This legislation would disenfranchise millions of Americans.
In case it needs to be said, that is not at all how Jim Crow worked, as HuffPost's Arthur Delaney tried to explain to Cruz in the hallway outside the committee room. Expanding access to the ballot and mitigating the damage from Republican-passed election laws in Florida and Georgia is, in fact, the exact opposite of Jim Crow.
Cruz's defense of that claim is as false as it is racist: He says the true purpose of the bill is to add millions of undocumented immigrants to state voter rolls, entrenching the Democrats in power. This would, in turn, disenfranchise the millions of legal voters by canceling out their — presumably Republican — votes.
This claim is just one small step removed from Donald Trump's argument in 2016 that he lost the popular vote only because undocumented immigrants cast the exact number of votes he'd lost by. It's also dangerously close to the rhetoric that Trump supporters used last year: If you'd counted only the legal votes, Trump would actually have won the election.
Cruz tried to strip a provision from the bill that would mandate automatic voter registration in all 50 states. In his amendment, states would have to ensure that automatic registration didn't include undocumented immigrants. But, as several senators pointed out, such mechanisms are already in place in states that automatically register residents to vote.
When Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., straight up asked Cruz to provide any evidence of undocumented immigrants' being added to voter lists, Cruz dodged. "I'm very glad that the Democratic senators are suggesting illegal immigrants won't be allowed to vote under this bill, because if that's the case, then you should support this amendment," Cruz said without an ounce of shame. (The amendment failed, like most put forward during the hearing, on a 9-9 partisan vote.)
The other flashpoint involved the Federal Election Commission. In his opening remarks, Cruz claimed that the bill would put the FEC under the control of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. In this nightmare world, "every Republican senator and every Republican House member will be investigated, will be fined, will be prosecuted by the Federal Election Commission."
"I ask you for a moment, which Democrat on this committee would want a federal election committee controlled by Senator McConnell?" he asked, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the room. McConnell didn't take the question as an insult. He teamed up with Cruz later in the day to defend an amendment that would keep the FEC effectively deadlocked. His reasoning: "I don't think there's any dysfunction at all" in the mostly inert commission.
Between the two of them, you have the Senate Republican ideology in a nutshell. On one side you have McConnell, master of the filibuster, insisting that obstruction and inaction not only are acceptable, but they are also a sign that things are working. On the other, you have Cruz, throwing rhetorical bombs and hoping he'll get booked on Fox again tonight.
Both also operate under the assumption that any move by Democrats — even if it could benefit both parties equally in the long run — is a power grab. They assume this because it's what they would do if the situation were reversed. (Remember how quickly McConnell forgot his own protests about how sacred the filibuster was once he had a Supreme Court nominee to confirm.)
Ossoff, the new kid on the committee, tried to find common ground with the Republicans, bless him. "One of the things I've observed in my short time in the Senate, we're sort of plagued by an assumption of partisan bad faith," he said when introducing his first amendment. "I beseech my Republican colleagues to suspend for a moment the reflexive tendency to presume the worst."
When committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., opened the floor for comment on Ossoff's amendment, there was a brief silence before she chuckled and recognized Cruz to speak.
Cruz, the first to speak after Ossoff's earnest plea, didn't have anything substantive to say. He just wanted to note that so far in the markup, every Democrat had voted against every GOP amendment, while several Republicans had voted for amendments that Democrats had proposed.
"I'm willing to stand up to my party,' Cruz said, "and yet, for some reason, the Democrats seem unwilling to do the same."
Cruz, I have to note, wasn't one of those Republicans who voted for any of the Democrats' amendments. But that's Ted for you.