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Senate poised for all-day brawl over sweeping elections bill

Senators are set for a high-stakes battle over one of Democrats’ biggest priorities that could have repercussions not only for the 2022 midterm elections but the Senate itself.

The Senate Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to debate and vote on a sweeping elections bill that progressives view as crucial to the future of democracy and Republicans see as a federal takeover of the voting process.

The bill comes as GOP-led states around the country are proposing and enacting laws to rein in ballot box access, fueling pressure for Democrats to use their razor-thin congressional majorities to step in. Underscoring how important it is to the party, Democrats reserved their first legislative slot — S. 1 in the Senate and H.R. 1 in the House — for the legislation, known as the For the People Act.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCan Manchin answer his predecessor's call on voting rights? Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' Democrats' narrow chance to retain control after 2022 MORE (R-Ky.) are expected to take part in Tuesday’s committee meeting, lending their heft and headline-grabbing prowess to what’s expected to be a contentious hours-long hearing divided along party lines. Though they are both members of the panel, and former chairmen, they rarely attend the committee hearings.

Republicans have filed roughly 150 amendments to the bill as they pull out all the stops to weaken or even sink it.

“I think it will last at least all day. I think at some point the chairwoman will have to decide if she wants legitimate amendments from our members to all have a chance to be voted on,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Congress barrels toward debt cliff Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions MORE (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the panel, referring to Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup | Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border | John McAfee dies Klobuchar questions Amazon, Alphabet over smart-home devices Schumer vows next steps after 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE (D-Minn.). “I think they owe it to the other side to let the other side be heard.”

McConnell is planning to offer amendments during Tuesday’s debate, according to his office.

Republicans, one committee aide said, will focus their efforts on parts of the bill they believe would make elections “less fair” and “less secure,” including offering amendments to strike provisions that weaken voter ID laws.

Vowing to fight the bill “at every step,” amendments filed by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) would strike a provision on same-day registration at polling locations, change language supportive of D.C. statehood to language opposing it and try to delay implementation of the entire bill until 2027.

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Blunt will use his opening remarks to paint the Democratic measure as a “one-size-fits all approach” being dictated by Washington that will “cause chaos on election day and erode trust in our election system.“

“This is a bad bill, full of bad policies that create problems not solutions. We should be focused on making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Regrettably, the bill before us makes it easier to cheat and harder to detect,” he will say, according to excerpts of his remarks obtained by The Hill.

The bill passed the House earlier this year for a second time after it went nowhere last year in the GOP-controlled Senate. The legislation, which received no Republican support in the House during the March vote, requires states to offer mail-in ballots and a minimum of 15 days of early voting, while calling for online and same-day voter registration. The measure also calls for the creation of independent commissions to draw congressional districts in an effort to put an end to partisan gerrymandering.

Amid talks with election officials and among Senate Democrats, Klobuchar has offered a substitute amendment that keeps the bill largely intact but gives states more time to comply with some provisions.

"We are all united behind this bill," Klobuchar said about Democrats on the panel during an Our Revolution organizing event on Monday night.

The changes include giving states until 2026 to update their voting systems, with the option of requesting a waiver to delay that further into 2030. It keeps the requirement from the original bill for state motor vehicle departments to implement automatic voter registration by 2023, but they can also request a waiver until 2025.

Other changes under Klobuchar’s amendment would give polling locations more time to offer same-day registration and more flexibility on areas like early voting and drop boxes.

A Democratic source predicted that their party’s amendments would largely reflect things already in the updated bill spearheaded by Klobuchar and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySchumer vows next steps after 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (D-Ore.).

“This takes care of some of the biggest challenges, you know, some of the reasonable requests for small jurisdictions to be considered,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure MORE (D-Va.), a member of the panel, about the changes put forward by Klobuchar and Merkley.

Sen. Jon OssoffJon OssoffOssoff introduces solar energy tax credit legislation Democrats seek new ways to expand Medicaid in holdout states Stacey Abrams calls on young voters of color to support election reform bill MORE (D-Ga.) will offer an amendment that would prohibit states from placing restrictions on volunteers’ ability to offer food or water to voters waiting in line, as long as they are not engaging in a political activity and extend the offer to every voter in line.

The Senate standoff comes as numerous state legislatures across the country have introduced legislation to place new restrictions on voting in the wake of the 2020 election, which former President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE and his allies have falsely claimed was stolen. Dozens of challenges from Trump’s legal team were dismissed by the courts, and election experts have said there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

The Brennan Center for Justice found that as of March 24, legislatures have introduced 361 bills with “restrictive provisions” in 47 states.

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A Washington Post analysis found that the state-level changes could amount to the biggest shift in access to the ballot since Reconstruction, placing limits on the ability to vote for tens of millions of Americans.

That’s led Democrats and outside groups to argue that the For the People Act is crucial to stem any efforts to try to limit voting.

Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor on Monday, called the bill a “very top priority” and vowed to give it a vote in the full Senate.

“Our Republican colleagues face a critical choice between working with Democrats in good faith to pass a law to protect our democracy or siding with Republican state legislatures that are orchestrating the largest contraction of voting rights in decades,” he said.

“We know our Republican colleagues don’t like every aspect of S. 1, but will they work in good faith to improve it?” he added.

Outside groups view the bill, and the likelihood that Republicans filibuster it, as a make-or-break moment for the Senate’s rules change debate.

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Democrats at the moment do not have the 50 votes needed to get rid of the legislative filibuster and its 60-vote threshold for advancing most bills. In addition to on-the-record opposition from Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' Sanders says he's 'tired of talking' about Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-Ariz.), several others have suggested they are wary of nixing or weakening the longstanding rule.

And while Schumer has floated that a GOP filibuster of the bill could force the Senate to “evolve,” Manchin has signaled that he doesn’t support the House-passed bill, though he hasn’t taken a stance yet on the revised version.

“We’re looking at everything,” he said.

Other Democrats stopped short of predicting whether the elections bill could be what breaks the stalemate in the caucus over the legislative filibuster. Senate Democrats will meet as a caucus on Thursday to discuss the legislation, a Democratic source familiar confirmed to The Hill.

“I’m not the person to ask. The two or three people who are most concerned about the future of the filibuster are the ones you ask,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick Durbin'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden administration to back bill ending crack, powder cocaine sentence disparity: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats await Manchin decision on voting rights bill MORE (D-Ill.) when asked if Republicans blocking the bill would move the conversation among Democrats about the filibuster.

Asked if there was a path for S. 1 with the filibuster still in place, Warner responded: “I’ll let you guys make those judgments.”