In Congress, Republicans Shrug at Warnings of Democracy in Peril


WASHINGTON – Senator Christopher S. Murphy admits that political rhetoric in the nation’s capital can turn into hysteria at times, but when it comes to the precarious state of American democracy, he insisted that it does not reflect the nation’s propensity for authoritarianism exaggerated.

“Democrats are always at risk of becoming hyperbolic,” said Connecticut Democrat Mr. Murphy. “I don’t think there is any risk when it comes to the current state of democratic norms.”

After the norm-breaking presidency of Donald J. Trump, the violent bombast over a stolen election, pressure on state tellers, the Capitol Rebellion, and the spate of electoral restriction laws rapidly being enacted in Republican-run states, Washington has Washington was in excruciating condition.

Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter repression efforts to remove tens of millions of citizens, mostly blacks, in a cynical effort to seize power. Metal detectors sit outside the House of Representatives chamber to prevent lawmakers – especially Republicans who boast of intent to carry guns everywhere – from bringing guns down. The Democrats view their Republican counterparts with suspicion, believing that some of them collaborated with the rioters on Jan. 6.

Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some viewing the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state’s legislative changes are intended to restore the “integrity” of the process, even if they defeat Mr. Credibility is given to Trump’s false claims about rampant fraud in the 2020 elections.

As usual, they reject the Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as overheated political language.

“For four or five years I have not understood why we are getting so quickly to a place where part of the country is safe, that we no longer have the strength to move forward as we always have in the past,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, notes that the passions of Republican voters today match those of Democratic voters after Mr. Trump’s triumph. “Four years ago people from the so-called resistance showed up in all my offices every week, some of whom chained themselves to the door.”

For the Democrats, evidence of an impending catastrophe is piling up every day. Fourteen states, including politically competitive states like Florida and Georgia, have enacted 22 laws to restrict early and postal votes, limit polling stations, and allow partisans to hold police elections and then oversee the counting of votes. Others are likely to follow, including Texas, with its huge share of MPs and votes.

With Republicans controlling the legislature of many states where the 2020 census will force redistribution, the party is already in a strong position to wipe out the razor-thin majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Even moderate changes to the electoral law could increase Republicans’ chances of net winning one vote they need to retake the Senate.

And in the nightmare result proclaimed by some academics, Republicans have put themselves in a position to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election when the swing state vote runs low.

“Legislative changes in major key electoral battlefield states dangerously politicize the electoral administration process, with Republican-controlled lawmakers giving themselves the power to override election results based on unsubstantiated allegations,” 188 scholars said in a statement in which they expressed concern about the erosion of democracy.

Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who lectured on American politics at Bowdoin College before joining the Senate, put the moment in historical context. He called American democracy “a 240 year experiment going against the grain of human history,” and that stream usually leads to and from authoritarianism.

He said he feared empowering state legislatures to rule on election results rather than worrying restrictions on the right to vote.

“This is an incredibly dangerous moment and I think it is not being realized sufficiently,” he said.

Republicans claim that much of this is exaggerated, although some admit the allegations. Pennsylvania Republican Senator Patrick J. Toomey said the Democrats played a hateful racial card to promote voting legislation so extreme that it would cement Democratic control of Congress for decades.

“I hope there is no harm done,” he added, “but it is always very dangerous to misplay the racing card and let’s be honest, it is done here.”

Mr Toomey, who voted for Mr Trump’s conviction on his second impeachment trial, said he understands why 2020 election rules will be heavily liberalized, mail-in voting expanded and ballot counting expanded in the midst of a deadly pandemic days after the election day and the setting up of ballot boxes, polling stations and weeks of early voting is made possible.

However, he added that Democrats should understand why state election officials wanted to revise their course now that the coronavirus is ebbing.

“Every state has to strike a balance between two competing values: making casting legitimate votes as easy as possible, but also for others, which is just as important: everyone’s trust in the authenticity of the votes,” Toomey said.

Trump’s lies about a stolen election, he added, “are more likely because you had this system that went so far in the other direction.”

Some other Republicans argue that they are trying to use their minority party prerogatives to secure their own power. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said the undertaking was the essence of the American system of representative democracy and differentiated it from direct democracy, where the majority rule and the rights of the minority can be trampled on.

“The idea of ​​democracy and majority rule really goes against our history and what the country stands for,” said Paul. “The Jim Crow laws came from democracy. You get that when a majority ignores the rights of others. “

Democrats and their allies oppose these arguments. Mr King said the only reason voters’ lack of confidence in the electoral system was because Republicans – Mr Trump in particular – had been telling them for months that it had been tampered with despite all the evidence to the contrary, and now continued to insist it was in the process that needs to be fixed.

“It’s like asking for mercy as an orphan after killing both of your parents,” he said.

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, did not say in any way that some of the state’s new electoral laws could be viewed as a necessary course correction. “Not being able to serve water to someone waiting in line? I mean, come on, ”he said. “There are elements in most of these proposals where you look at that and say, ‘This is against common sense.'”

Democratic missteps have compounded Republican attempts to downplay the dangers. Some of them, including President Biden, have misrepresented Georgia’s electoral law and handed ammunition to Republicans to say the Democrats are deliberately distorting what is happening at the state level.

The state’s 98-page electoral law, passed after the narrow victories of Mr Biden and two Democratic Senate candidates, would make postal voting difficult and create restrictions and complications for millions of voters, including many blacks.

But Mr. Biden falsely claimed that the law – which he labeled “un-American” and “sick” – introduced new restrictions on early voting to prevent people from voting after 5 p.m., New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who said Majority leader of the Georgia law had ended the early voting on Sunday. It didn’t.

And the momentum – critics say, exaggerated – in the Democratic response to Republican electoral law, the For the People Act, has undermined Democratic claims that the fate of the Republic depends on its passage. Even some Democrats are uncomfortable with the breadth of the law, including promoting statehood for the District of Columbia with the assurance of two other Senators, almost certainly Democratic; its public funding of elections; its cancellation of most voter identification laws; and its mandatory early voting and postal voting rules.

“You want to put a thumb on the scale of future elections,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, on Wednesday. “They want to take power from the electorate and the states and gain every partisan advantage they can.”

Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah who could potentially be a partner in the Democrats’ efforts to expand voting rights, called the bill a “fundamentally dubious” bill.

Republican leaders have tried to bring the current argument from the heights of history to the essence of the legislation. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, noted the success of bipartisan efforts such as the passing of a bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans, the approval of a broad-based competitive measure in China, and recent talks on compromising infrastructure and criminal justice, and evidence that the democratic catastrophe on the state of the American government was exaggerated.

But the Democrats cannot be reassured.

“We don’t want to belittle the importance of the work we’ve done here, but we’re talking about democracy itself,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “And pointing out other bills that have nothing to do with fair administration of elections is just an attempt to distract as all these legislatures systematically work to incapacitate voters who have historically been Democrat.”

Mr King said he had serious discussions with Republican colleagues about the precarious state of American democracy. Authoritarian leaders like Vladimir V. Putin, Viktor Orban and Adolf Hitler came to power through elections and stayed in power by distorting or obliterating democratic norms.

However, he admitted he doesn’t need serious engagement just yet, largely because his colleagues fear the wrath of Mr Trump and his supporters.

“I have a feeling they are hoping the whole thing goes away,” he said. “They argue, but you get the feeling that their hearts are not there.”