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Ben Sasse Calls for Repealing 17th Amendment, Eliminating Popular-Vote Senate Elections

Senator Ben Sasse speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2020. ( Erin Schaff/Reuters)

Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) called to repeal the 17th Amendment on Tuesday, which would eliminate the requirement that U.S. senators be elected by popular votes.

In Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Make the Senate Great Again,” Sasse called for an end to the amendment, among other changes to the Senate “aimed at promoting debate, not ending it.”

He also recommended abolishing standing committees, requiring senators to show up for debates, implementing 12-year term limits, and requiring senators to live together in dorms when in Washington.

“What would the Founding Fathers think of America if they came back to life?” Sasse wrote. “Their eyes would surely bug out first at our technology and wealth. But I suspect they’d also be stunned by the deformed structure of our government. The Congress they envisioned is all but dead. The Senate in particular is supposed to be the place where Americans hammer out our biggest challenges with debate. That hasn’t happened for decades—and the rot is bipartisan.”

Before the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, Article I of the Constitution mandated that each state legislature vote to send two senators to Washington. Sasse argues that returning control to state legislatures would be a way of increasing local control in the Senate in a time of polarization and nationalization in politics.

“Different states bring different solutions to the table, and that ought to be reflected in the Senate’s national debate,” he wrote. “The old saying used to be that all politics is local, but today—thanks to the internet, 24/7 cable news and a cottage industry dedicated to political addiction—politics is polarized and national. That would change if state legislatures had direct control over who serves in the Senate.”

The Nebraskan Senator also suggested ridding the Senate of cameras because in the presence of cameras, Senators “aren’t trying to learn from witnesses, uncover details, or improve legislation. They’re competing for sound bites.

“Without posturing for cameras, Republicans and Democrats cooperate on some of America’s most complicated and urgent problems,” he wrote.

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