(WASHINGTON) — In a rare event, the Senate will convene on Wednesday morning with all Democrats instructed to be in their seats inside the chamber when the business begins as they try to move forward on voting rights legislation and a challenge a long-standing Senate rule, efforts poised to fail without the support of a single Republican and likely even some Democrats.
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 broad, strong feeling in our caucus about that.”
“To anyone who says, ‘Oh, well you may not win.’ Don’t do it. Look at history,” Schumer added, preemptively defending the effort as a moral win, if not a legislative one.
Under a talking filibuster, senators are required to “hold the floor” during debate, 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 support the underlying legislation.
“I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday, shooting down the proposed talking filibuster.
And without the support of every single Democrat, it’ll be a non-starter in the chamber.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell gave a highly critical speech on the floor Tuesday of the effort after weeks of warning of “scorched earth” if Democrats made a filibuster carveout.
“Does the Senate exist to help narrow majorities double down on divisions or to force broad coalitions to build bridges?” McConnell said. “This fake hysteria does not prove the senate is obsolete it proves the Senate is as necessary as ever.”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.
The Senate rules change vote is expected in the early evening.
Across Pennsylvania Avenue, President Joe Biden – one day shy of one year in office – will hold a press conference from the White House around the same time, where he’ll likely take questions on his stalled legislative agenda.
The election reform bill at hand in the Senate would make Election Day a federal holiday, expand early voting and mail-in-voting, and give the federal government greater oversight over state elections. And would come at a time when nearly 20 states have restricted access to voting fueled by false claims in the wake of the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
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