COMPASS: The Senate votes on partisan election overhaul

June 21st, 2021

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. After 461 days, DC’s tyrannosaurus rex is finally out of quarantine. The Smithsonian Natural History museum (as well as several other Smithsonian museums) is open to visitors with a reservation.

The House and Senate are both in session this week. The congressional infrastructure package continues to gurgle along. A group of 10 Democratic and Republican senators have presented a $974 billion package to the White House to see if it can get Biden’s support.

But the big thing everyone is watching this week is the fate of S.1, the For the People Act, otherwise known as the Democratic package to take over American voting laws. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will bring the bill to the floor, as soon as tomorrow, despite not having the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.

Passage of this bill is less the point than, well, the exercise itself making the point. Democrats will no doubt use the bill’s failure to assail the legislative filibuster, and bring more pressure on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to reverse their stand against removing it.

Democrats may also use this opportunity to build more support for H.R.4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. This bill is tagged as “less substantial” than S.1, but that belies the reality of how substantial the bill really is — so much so that it could be said that passage of S.1 isn’t really the goal, it’s just paving the way for passage of H.R. 4. (For more on H.R. 4, read here.)

This is an old tactic that CPI’s president and CEO, Ed Corrigan, long ago identified as the “shiny object” strategy: take a piece of legislation so dramatic that it will never actually pass, distract your opposition, which will then spend time and resources opposing it, all with the goal of passing your actual priority while no one is paying attention; in this case, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

In other news this week, our friends at First Liberty flagged a case for us recently which suggests the reemergence of a disturbing trend of targeting at the Internal Revenue Service. On May 18, the IRS denied the Texas-based group Christians Engaged tax-exempt status because its Christian educational mission is “associated with political party platforms.”

Tristan Justice has more in The Federalist:

“You do not qualify as an organization described in IRS Section 501(c)(3),” wrote IRS Office of Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements Director Stephen Martin in a letter dated May 18 to the group Christians Engaged, accusing the Garland-based group of “political campaign intervention.”

That illegal intervention, Martin explained, is the group working to “instruct individuals on issues that are prominent in political campaigns and instruct them in what the Bible says about the issue and how they should vote.”

“These issues include the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and biblical justice. These issues generally distinguish candidates and are associated with political party platforms.”

Certified non-profit groups encourage their members to vote in accordance with their values all the time. One would be hard-pressed to find a culturally-engaged 501(c)(3) listed entity that does not do this. What they can’t do is endorse specific political actions or candidates. But according to the IRS under Biden, merely advocating for biblical values in government is an infringement on non-profit bans against overt political activism.

The ruling sparks flashbacks to the Obama-Biden IRS targeting of conservative groups with undue certainty at the direction of Lois Lerner in 2013, who at the time oversaw the agency’s Exempt Organizations unit. The intense scrutiny selectively applied to right-leaning organizations led to multiple federal investigations and congressional inquiries, but only marked the first time an administration with Biden at the top would use the bureaucratic state to come down on political adversaries.

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One More Thing…

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently opined on “how Joe Manchin can fix the filibuster,” suggesting that the Democratic senator support reducing the 60 vote threshold to 55 votes. Conservatives joined together to respond.