Dems Hold Closed-Door Meetings on Reforming Filibuster Amid Sinema, Manchin Obstruction
20:34 GMT 16.12.2021 (Updated: 13:27 GMT 06.08.2022)
Democratic senators have backed off attempting to scrap the bill-killing filibuster rule and are instead focused on revamping it in the face of intransigence by two right-wing colleagues. However, candidates seeking office are being increasingly vocal about discarding the rule, which has blocked much of US President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
Two right-wing Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have maintained their opposition to scrapping the filibuster, warning that doing so would risk allowing sharp changes in US policy as Congress’ upper chamber shifts between the two parties’ control.
John LaBombard, a spokesperson for Sinema, said on Wednesday that the right-wing Democrat “continues to support the Senate's 60-vote threshold, to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans’ confidence in our government.”
"Senator Sinema has asked those who want to weaken or eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation which she supports, if it would be good for our country to do so," LaBombard noted, adding that if a weakened filibuster was then used to pass "nationwide voter-ID law, nationwide restrictions on vote-by-mail, or other voting restrictions currently passing in some states extended nationwide."
“We’ll be in the minority sometime,” Manchin noted on Tuesday.
Talking a Bill To Death
From the $1.7 billion infrastructure and social spending bill to LGBTQ rights, abortion, and most recently, voting rights, the Democratic political agenda in Congress has stalled out over the past year thanks to a Senate rule allowing a single lawmaker to block a bill’s progress unless a 60-vote supermajority can be mustered to overpower them. The filibuster, first introduced in 1806, has been amended several times, both to strengthen its bill-stopping power but also to permit certain exceptions to be made for essential business.
Thanks to a Republican commitment to blocking Biden’s agenda after he beat out their candidate, Donald Trump, in the 2020 elections, little progress has been made in getting Biden-supported bills through the Senate in 2021, with the exception of certain “must pass” bills that are filibuster-proof. This, despite the fact that in the evenly-split Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote and would side with the Democrats, giving them a majority capable of passing bills.
Over the summer, pressure built for the Democrats to eliminate the filibuster and force the GOP to argue against their bills on even terms, but opposition by Biden and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) kept the rule in place. However, those talks have been renewed in recent days as the president's massive Build Back Better Act and two bills designed to shore up voting rights, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, have stalled out in the Senate.
© AP Photo / Jacquelyn MartinA man holds an anti-filibuster sign with the a depiction of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of R-Ky., on it, during a rally in support of voting rights, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
A man holds an anti-filibuster sign with the a depiction of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of R-Ky., on it, during a rally in support of voting rights, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Despite their opposition to shredding the filibuster, both Manchin and Sinema have said they support the bills caught in the balance by the rule.
The Senate is under increasing pressure to get the bills passed, with Biden saying on Wednesday during a visit to Kentucky towns hit by powerful tornadoes that “There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.”
“If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it. If we can’t, we’ve got to keep going,” he added. On Thursday, he told Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) that legislation on the issue was “important for democracy.”
Tester, who opposes what he calls a “one-person veto,” is among those pressuring Manchin to agree to change the filibuster rules. However, instead of scrapping the filibuster, they now seek to limit its power by requiring senators to actually engage in the traditional nonstop speaking on the Senate floor, as the rule originally allowed, instead of simply submitting a written intent to do so, as has been permitted since the 1970s.
Another proposal would change the requirement for defeating a filibuster from 60 “yes” votes to 41 “no” votes; lawmakers are also considering expanding exemptions for more bills.
“The rules change should be done to be where we all have input in this rules change because we’re going to have to live with it,” Manchin told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the issue "a tough one ... because what goes around comes around here. You’ve got to be very careful what you do.”
LaBombard, Sinema’s spokesperson, also noted that the Arizona lawmaker believes "it is time for the Senate to publicly debate its rules, including the filibuster."
"If there are proposals to make the Senate work better for everyday Americans without risking repeated radical reversals in federal policy, Senator Sinema is eager to hear such ideas and - as always - is willing to engage in good-faith discussions with her colleagues," he added.
Running Against Reform
However, for a new crop of Democrats seeking to win office in the midterm elections next fall, reforming the filibuster simply isn’t good enough.
John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor who is looking to beat out Republican rival, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, for the Keystone State’s open senate seat in November 2022, told Axios on Tuesday that Democrats should be willing to scrap the filibuster because “Voters gave us a mandate and we need to get things done, especially in the areas of like voter suppression and Roe v. Woe and minimum wage."
"It's incumbent on us as a party to use the opportunities that we have," he said, referring to Democratic control of both houses of Congress and the White House, which should theoretically make passing legislation easy.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who’s also running for a Senate seat on the Democratic ticket, said last week he supports ending the filibuster in order to get voting rights legislation passed. And he’s not the only one, either: three others seeking to oust Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) hold the same opinion.
North Carolina’s former Supreme Court chief justice, Cheri Beasley, who’s seeking the Democrats’ Senate nomination, blasted the filibuster in October, calling it "a tool of gridlock, which stops and prohibits the passage of the kind of legislation that the majority of the American people support."