Angus King signals he would nix filibuster for voting rights
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) signaled on Wednesday that he would support changing the Senate’s rules if Republicans block voting rights legislation.
King, who has long been viewed as wary of changing the filibuster, laid out his thinking in a Washington Post op-ed, saying he viewed voting rights as a “special case.”
“All-out opposition to reasonable voting rights protections cannot be enabled by the filibuster; if forced to choose between a Senate rule and democracy itself, I know where I will come down,” King wrote.
Opponents of the filibuster have long viewed voting rights and sweeping democracy and election reforms as fertile ground for swaying Democratic senators wary of changing the rules.
The House passed an elections and ethics reform bill earlier this month, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged that he will give it a vote in the upper chamber. Without changes to the filibuster, the bill would need 60 votes — something it could not get with no Republicans currently supporting the legislation.
Some reform advocates have suggested making an exemption for the filibuster for civil rights or voting legislation as states across the country take up bills that would limit access to the ballot box. Without action in Congress, progressives warn, the changes would also effectively limit Democrats’ ability to win elections.
Democrats don’t currently have the votes to nix the filibuster, which would require the support of all 50 members of their caucus. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are on the record in opposition to getting rid of the 60-vote threshold and several others have voiced concerns.
King chided progressives in his op-ed on Wednesday, saying they “seem to have forgotten or are willing to ignore” that the filibuster could help block GOP policies once Republicans are back in the majority.
“Succeeding Congresses swing dramatically between opposing ideological visions, so, too, would our laws. The Affordable Care Act could be eliminated or crippled, Medicare voucherized, social lifeline programs gutted or environmental protections compromised — only to have these policies reversed a few years later by a change in a handful of seats,” King wrote.
But he added that he viewed concern about a future Senate’s actions as only “sustainable” if the minority party insists on requiring 60 votes “sparingly” or “in a good-faith effort” to negotiate.
“If, however, the minority hangs together and regularly uses this power to block any and all initiatives of the majority (and their president), supporting the continuation of the rule becomes harder and harder to justify, regardless of the long-term consequences,” King wrote.
King’s op-ed comes as Senate Democrats are eyeing the next phase in their discussions over what to do about the filibuster.
Democrats say the next steps will include bringing up some of the party’s big priorities that unify the caucus, and testing whether or not they can overcome a filibuster.
Democrats say the strategy is two-fold: It will make Republicans go on the record in opposition and could demonstrate to Democrats wary of reforming the legislative filibuster that much of their agenda will be stuck in limbo without reforms.
King hinted at that strategy, writing in the Post that “the question for me is how [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues will play their hand.”
“[If] they just say no, the necessity — and likelihood — of filibuster reform would only increase. That is to say, in large measure the outcome is in their hands,” King wrote.