Democrats Pressuring Senators Manchin, Sinema to Back Changes to Filibuster
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has repeatedly upset Democrats' plans in the evenly divided Senate. Last month, he thwarted the passing of the extensive "Build Back Better" bill proposed by President Joe Biden.
Scores of Democrats are scrambling to get fellow Senator Joe Manchin on board with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's plan to pass changes to the filibuster process by 17 January. Schumer announced the ambitious plan, devised to help the Democrats pass voting rights bills, earlier this month even though not all party members are ready to back it.
Manchin has so far only double downed on his criticism of plans for any changes to the filibuster – a process that most of the time prevents any single party from unilaterally passing legislation in the US Senate with a small number of exceptions, like adopting a budget. Yet, the conservative Democrat has stressed that talks with the rest of the party are still ongoing.
He indicated his reluctance to change major Senate rules without support from the GOP, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted that the latter is in short supply at the moment.
"Manchin has said all along that he wants to deal with Republicans and we have all been very patient. I believe he knows that we will not get any Republican cooperation", Schumer said.
Schumer said that there were "serious discussions" with Manchin regarding the filibuster changes when he met with a group of Democrats spearheading the ambitious effort on 4 January. And while the party's efforts are largely focused on Manchin, he is not the only Democratic senator on the fence about changes to the filibuster.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) also remains opposed to the idea of changing the long-time practice. According to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), there are party members who are trying to convince her otherwise. He added that despite the lack of support from the two senators in the 50-50 divided upper chamber, Schumer is still holding onto the 17 January deadline to push the changes for the filibuster.
"We've spent month after month after month with both of them. […] We're trying to convince both of them, give us a fair chance to deal with voting rights", Durbin said.
The Democrats are eyeing to use the "nuclear option" – a way of overturning the filibuster requirement of 60 votes – in order to change the procedure, but, in this case, they still need at least 50 Senators to back the idea.
What Changes are the Democrats Proposing, and How are They Linked to Voting Rights?
At the same time, the Democrats are still to lay out what specific changes they're willing to make to the filibuster – these have not yet been set in stone as the party wants to preserve some room for manoeuvre in talks with Manchin.
The proposed ideas range widely. The toughest option suggests that the opposing party can delay the voting for as long as it can hold the floor debating a bill, but will eventually have to vote on it with only a simple majority required to pass it. That is the way the filibuster used to work in the past. The least complicated option suggests removing the 60 vote requirement to stop the debate, but keeping the 60 vote mandate for ending it – this variant is currently preferred by Manchin.
23 December 2021, 20:00 GMT
Among other proposals is one suggesting to exempt voting rights bills from being filibustered – an option backed by President Joe Biden. The idea stems from the Democrats' failure to pass their extensive voting rights reform due to opposition from the GOP, who fear it might undermine the integrity of elections.
The Republicans blocked the Democrats' voting rights bills last year and since then the Dems have been working on changing the filibuster. The notion divided the party as many of its senators either opposed the idea or were uncertain if it was worth backing. However, over the past half year they've managed to reduce the number of Democratic senators on the fence with Manchin and Sinema being the last holdouts.
What's in the Democratic Party's Voting Rights Reform?
The voting rights reform consisted of several bills that sought to make sweeping changes to the voting process, such as prohibiting voter-roll purges, making voter registration simpler, and available at the polls. The bills also expanded mail-in voting, mandated two-week-long early voting, and required all states to use paper ballots.
22 October 2021, 00:20 GMT
The reform also included a bill named after voting rights activist and US lawmaker John Lewis, which sought to reinstate portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The removed sections of the 1965 law included the requirement for state authorities to get a green light from the federal government before making changes to local voting regulations. The John Lewis Act also sought to reinstate the ban on implementing restrictive legislation in terms of the right to vote by state governments, such as introducing strict voter ID requirements.