Six months out from a midterm election that could reset power in Washington, our country’s biggest challenges lay at the feet of the U.S. Senate. If the reasonable lawmakers left in that struggling institution fail to act on climate change, election reform and gun violence, they may not have another chance for a while.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the Senate fails, our environment will continue to degrade, our democracy will be further warped, and our fellow Americans will continue to drown under a flood of firearms.

Experience tells us that the odds aren’t good – that partisan politics and the nature of the Senate will doom any meaningful legislation on these big issues. But as long as there is time to act, there’s got to be hope that it can happen. The cost of doing nothing is too high.

Maine’s senators, Angus King, an independent, and Republican Susan Collins, are in the middle of these discussions. In an arena where the grandstanding usually outweighs the legislating, both senators see themselves as problem-solvers. The next several months will test that.


The focus today, of course, is on gun violence. Following the mass shooting at a elementary school in Texas, there has been yet another call for Congress to put in place a series of policies that have been shown to reduce gun violence.


Sen. Collins has homed in on one particular policy, the enactment of yellow and red flag laws, which give law enforcement the ability to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person deemed at risk to themselves or others.

Such a measure would likely pass in the Democratic-controlled House. But it would need the support of 10 Republicans to overcome a certain filibuster. It’s not clear where that support would come from. On Thursday, every Senate Republican voted against starting debate on a domestic terrorism bill that included gun safety measures.

Likewise, there’s a bipartisan effort, led by King and Collins, to reform elections and avoid a repeat of 2020, when President Trump pressured Vice President Pence to reject the legitimate vote tallies sent from the states.

It’s probably not enough. A portion of the Republican Party is willing to throw out the results of a free and fair election in order to see their candidate win. Some of them may win control over upcoming elections. Still, a Democratic proposal to ensure that voting is secure and protected from manipulation could not gain enough votes.

Then there’s the climate crisis, the biggest problem of them all. President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal included game-changing initiatives to lower carbon emissions, but – guess what – it could not get enough votes in the Senate.



In each case, the problem is neither the worthiness of the legislation nor its popularity among a majority of Americans. It’s the calcification of the Senate.

The politics on these issues have become so partisan and so entrenched that it is difficult for any Republican to buck their party and vote for solutions, no matter how reasonable or proven to work.

Also at fault is the nature of the Senate, which favors rural states over more populated ones, and which through the filibuster gives a minority of senators the ability to block just about anything, without ever having to offer solutions of their own or face real electoral scrutiny.

And if Republicans gain control of either the Senate or the House in the midterms, the same minority blocking any progress at all will be in charge.

The problems in the Senate are keeping Congress from addressing systemic problems at the heart of our society, and they are putting lives and the integrity of our democracy at risk.

If the Senate can’t take on our biggest challenges, when they are most threatening to our lives and livelihoods, then what is it good for?

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