Remember the Senate

Saturday, June 20, 2020 - 12:58am

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Quote card by Opinion SE

The 2020 general election is going to be one of the most consequential of our lifetime. It is a referendum, not just on the president, but officials at all levels. Important U.S. Senate races, including Michigan’s, will determine the partisan makeup of the Senate and the scope of what the president-elect can achieve. 

The last four years have shown us the power of the Senate and what is possible when that deliberative body is completely in line with the president. We have seen the Republican-controlled Senate, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., enable the reckless actions of President Donald Trump and prevent meaningful legislation from even being considered. Important bills on gun safety, election reform and election security that have passed the House of Representatives have never been considered in the Senate due to McConnell refusing to let those bills be considered. 

Another major role of the Senate is the confirmation of federal judges and cabinet officials. Over the past few years, the Senate has confirmed 200 conservative justices to the federal courts, even some with problematic backgrounds or no experience. The Senate also approved the nomination of controversial Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. 

As Democrats look to 2020, we must remember the power of the Senate. Without control of the Senate, a Joe Biden presidency will be seriously hampered in the ability to pass meaningful legislation on issues such as gun control and climate change. A Republican Senate would also prevent Biden from being able to appoint a progressive justice to the Supreme Court if a seat becomes available. Despite the importance of these Senate races, many people are only paying attention to the top of the ticket rather than investing their time and resources into Senate races where winning is a long shot. 

One trap Democrats must be wary of is letting their emotions lead them to devote time and resources towards candidates with little chance of winning. In April, it was revealed that McConnell’s likely Democratic opponent Amy McGrath had received $29.8 million in contributions, many of which are eager to unseat McConnell. The story is similar in South Carolina, where Jaime Harrison, the opponent of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has raised copious amounts of money. 

I completely understand why people have been so invested in these races. McConnell and Graham are some of Trump’s biggest supporters, constantly enabling the president and defending him to the bitter end. I will admit that I would love nothing more than to see both lose their races this fall. However, I also realize that it is highly unlikely. Kentucky and South Carolina are still solidly red states, especially during a presidential election year.

All the time and resources that have been poured into these two Senate races could be better spent in more competitive races where Democrats have a better chance of success. One of these races is right here in Michigan where incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., is facing a challenge from Republican businessman John James. Democrats need to keep this seat if they want to win control of the Senate. There are lots of other competitive races where Democrats have a chance of winning. In Arizona, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, is running against Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. Kelly is the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and has spent the last decade fighting to end gun violence. In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is facing a Democratic challenger after her controversial vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Other states such as Colorado, North Carolina, Montana and Iowa all provide opportunities for Democrats to pick up seats.

If Democrats can gain four seats, they will be able to take back the Senate. This will end McConnell’s hold on the Senate, relegating him to senate minority leader, allowing for Democrats to finally get things done in the Senate.

As we look to November, it is critically important that people remember the importance of the Senate. Without control of the Senate, Democrats cannot accomplish progressive change in Washington, D.C., even if they win the White House. There are so many things that we all can do to help build a Democratic majority. You can read up about the different races around the country and raise awareness with people you know in those states. You can volunteer virtually, doing anything from making calls to writing postcards to voters. And most of all, you can vote. It is up to all of us to vote and make our voices heard in our elections. 

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.