Senate braces for showdown over voting rights, filibuster rule

Senate braces for showdown over voting rights, filibuster rule




In a scarce event, the Senate convened on Wednesday morning with all Democrats instructed to be in their seats inside the chamber as they try to move forward on voting rights legislation and on a challenge to a long-standing Senate rule, efforts poised to fail without the sustain of a single Republican and likely already some Democrats.

The high-stakes Senate rules change vote was expected in the early evening.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats will seek a carveout to the filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation by replacing the current 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster with an old-fashioned “talking filibuster.”

“We feel very simply: on something as important as voting rights, if Senate Republicans are going to oppose it, they should not be allowed to sit in their office,” Schumer said Tuesday following an evening caucus meeting. “They’ve got to come down on the floor and defend their opposition to voting rights, the wellspring of our democracy. There’s general, strong feeling in our caucus about that.”

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks about voting rights legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks about voting rights legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.

“The eyes of history are upon us,” he said to open argue Wednesday, preemptively defending the effort as a moral win, if not a legislative one. “Win, lose or draw, we are going to vote, especially when the issue relates to the beating heart of democracy.”

Schumer called out Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell directly in his speech, who has led his party to block Democrats’ election reform efforts five times in the last year, blasting him for falsely claiming that red states haven’t changed laws restricting voter access.

“Just as Donald Trump has his “big lie,” Mitch McConnell now has his: states are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever,” Schumer said.

He also addressed two Democratic senators who keep up what Schumer thinks is a false view: that the chamber’s filibuster brings more bipartisanship — and he countered in his remarks, “Isn’t the protection of voting rights — the most basic wellspring of this democracy — more important?”

McConnell, in another blistering speech, git back that a rule change would “destroy the Senate” and warned of a “nuclear winter” if Democrats get their way and “blow up” the chamber’s rules to pass voting rights legislation, which he called a “partisan Frankenstein bill.”

“This is exactly the kind of toxic world view that this president pledged to disavow, but it is exactly what has consumed his party on his watch,” McConnell said, building on days of swipes at President Joe Biden.

PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks about voting rights legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks about voting rights legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.

McConnell accused Democrats of trying to “smash and grab as much short-term strength as they can carry,” and said, “For both groups of senators, this vote will echo for generations.”

When Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tried to ask McConnell a question after his speech and get him to include in argue on the issue, the Republican leader walked away.

“I’m sorry he did not stay for the question,” Durbin said to the chamber. “Does he really believe that there is no evidence of voter suppression in the actions of 19 states?”

Democrats’ election reform bill comes at a time when 19 states have restricted access to voting fueled by false claims in the wake of the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The bill at hand would make Election Day a federal holiday, expand early voting and mail-in-voting, and give the federal government greater oversight over state elections.

PHOTO: Martin Luther King III, his wife Arndrea Waters King and daughter Yolanda Renee King take part in a Peace Walk on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2022.

Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., his wife Arndrea Waters King and daughter Yolanda Renee King take part in a Peace Walk on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2022.

Schumer has hypothesizedv reverting to a talking filibuster on the issue with the aim of subverting GOP obstruction to make way for the bill’s final passage.

Under a talking filibuster, senators are required to “keep up the floor” during argue, testing their stamina as they must stand and speak to block bills. Once a party runs out of steam and gives in, the chamber would then pass the bill that was filibustered by a simple majority. So, in theory, Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, would serve as a tie-breaking vote for Democrats to pass the once-filibustered bill.

But both Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have repeatedly made clear their opposition to changing the filibuster rule to pass voting rights, although they say they sustain the inner legislation.

“I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday, shooting down the hypothesizedv talking filibuster.

And without the sustain of every single Democrat, it’ll be a non-starter in the chamber.

PHOTO: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema walks to the Senate Chamber for debate on voting rights legislation at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 19, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema walks to the Senate Chamber for argue on voting rights legislation at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 19, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

With argue underway Wednesday, there were about 10 empty Democratic chairs in the chamber which method nearly 40 Democratic lawmakers were planted in their chairs about an hour after business kicked off. Some are on their phones, others are taking notes, and one or two appear to be fighting back sleep.

Generally, senators rarely occupy the chamber while argue is open and only those wishing to speak deliver remarks to a largely empty room — but for the high-stakes showdown Wednesday, Democrats are expected to keep the chamber filled throughout the day.

Manchin and Sinema, both planted in their chairs this morning, were expected to buck their party in floor speeches but were seated with their caucus.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas warned Democrats they’re embarking on a “slippery slope” in attempting to carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass a piece of legislation.

“They’ll soon find themselves rueing the day their party broke the Senate,” he said. “The next Republican-controlled Senate can make the 2017 tax cuts long-lasting, ensure that blue state millionaires are required to pay their fair proportion of federal taxes,” he went on, listing GOP platforms including implementing a 20-week ban on abortion and establishing hid carry of firearms nationwide.

PHOTO: Senator Joe Manchin speaks to reporters as he arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 10, 2022.

Senator Joe Manchin speaks to reporters as he arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 10, 2022.

McConnell, who has courted the Democratic two holdout senators, gave a highly basic speech of Biden and Democrats on the floor Tuesday in addition, after weeks of warning of “scorched earth” if Democrats made a filibuster carveout.

“Does the Senate exist to help thin majorities double down on divisions or to force general coalitions to build bridges?” McConnell said on Tuesday. “This fake hysteria does not prove the senate is out of use it proves the Senate is as necessary as ever.”

Both parties have supported filibuster carveouts in the past decade for judicial nominees — first under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who lowered the threshold for judicial nominees to 51 votes to make way for then-President Barack Obama’s nominees in 2013. McConnell, as Senate majority leader in 2017, also used the so-called “nuclear option” to confirm then-President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Across Pennsylvania method, Biden — one day shy of one year in office — will keep up a news conference from the White House just before that, where he’ll likely take questions on his stalled legislative agenda.

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