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Sweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw

Sweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw
© Greg Nash

One of Democrats’ biggest priorities — a sweeping bill to overhaul elections — is facing long odds of passing the Senate.

Democrats are set to meet Thursday to talk about the For the People Act, a roughly 800-page measure that would set national standards aimed at expanding access to voting. Progressives view the bill as a must-pass, and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) has vowed to bring it to the floor.

Senate Democrats are tamping down expectations for Thursday’s meeting, characterizing it as largely educational after the Senate Rules Committee held an hours-long markup Tuesday full of high drama, and hope to use the gathering as a way to solidify unity around the bill.

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“My goal is … to convince everybody that we have to be together on this. We were the subject of a physical attack on Jan. 6 that was designed to disenfranchise 80 million people,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push This week: Senate set for voting rights fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE (D-Va.).

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyThis week: Senate set for voting rights fight Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-Ore.), who has been spearheading the bill in the Senate, said the meeting will allow members who haven’t been involved with the legislation to ask questions.

“It’s just a kind of a ‘let’s make sure we understand what this bill is,’ ” he said. “Between now and when we can get it to the floor, we’re totally open to other insights.”

But Democrats face big challenges in the Senate, alongside intense pressure from their base, to make good on their promise to send the legislation to President BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling MORE’s desk.

To get the bill through the Senate, they would need support from all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans — an unlikely scenario given that all nine Republicans on the Rules Committee, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.), voted against the bill, which has no Republican co-sponsors.

McConnell teed off against the bill again on Wednesday from the Senate floor, calling it a “one-party takeover of our political system.”

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The near-certainty that Republicans are not going to come on board is fueling new calls from progressives for Schumer, who is up for reelection in 2022, to quickly nix the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass most bills.

Ellen Sciales, press secretary for the Sunrise Movement, warned that if the Senate doesn’t pass the For the People Act, Schumer will have “to answer to an angry constituency of people back at home.”

“Sen. Schumer must see past the Republican BS and follow through on his promise to pass the For the People Act. ... Unless he’s lying to us, this means Sen. Schumer must commit to abolishing the filibuster and pass the For the People Act swiftly and urgently,” she said.

In New York, 70 groups aligned with the progressive group Indivisible sent a letter to Schumer saying they wanted him to bring the bill to the Senate floor by the end of the month, arguing the legislation “can’t move forward unless you start taking aggressive measures to push it through the Senate.”

Schumer hasn’t taken a position on getting rid of the filibuster but floated that Republicans blocking the For the People Act could force the Senate to “evolve.” He’s said he’ll give it a vote by August.

Still, any efforts to nix the filibuster to pass the bill faces two big hurdles. The first is that Democrats don’t have the 50 votes needed to get rid of it, with Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSinema defends filibuster ahead of Senate voting rights showdown The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSinema defends filibuster ahead of Senate voting rights showdown Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein MORE (D-Ariz.) opposed to eliminating it.

The other is that Senate Democrats aren’t unified behind the For the People Act, which would be needed to pass it even if they changed the rules, underscoring that the filibuster isn’t the only obstacle.

Manchin, who will not be at Thursday’s meeting because he’ll be traveling with first lady Jill BidenJill BidenBiden, Harris send well wishes for Father's Day Jill Biden remembers her father, celebrates President Biden on Father's Day Bidens announce death of their German shepherd, Champ MORE in West Virginia, reiterated Wednesday that he couldn’t support the bill.

“I’m not supporting that the way it is. I think it’s too darn broad and we have no bipartisan support. The country is more divided today than it's ever been,” Manchin said.

Instead, Manchin is urging Democrats to focus on the John LewisJohn LewisProgressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein More than 70 companies call on Senate to pass voting right bill This Juneteenth, will Congress finally ensure Black freedom? MORE Voting Rights Act, which reauthorizes and strengthens the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (D-Ill.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he wanted to bring the bill up in his committee “sooner rather than later,” but that it likely wouldn’t be sooner than next month.

Democrats don’t appear resigned to count Manchin out just yet.

When a reporter noted that 50 Democrats don’t support the For the People Act, Durbin hedged.

“I wouldn’t go that far. I would say that some are considering it,” he said.

The bill, which passed the House without any GOP support, requires states to offer mail-in ballots and a minimum of 15 days of early voting, in addition to pushing 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.

Democrats argue the legislation is necessary as Republicans in state legislatures across the country try to place new restrictions on voting. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as of late March, legislatures have introduced 361 bills with “restrictive provisions” in 47 states.

“The state-level efforts to roll back voting have all been kind of based in … the same big lie that led people to attack us. So if we have a Senate majority and we’ve been subject to an attack ourselves to try to disenfranchise people, why would we say, ‘Well, we have the majority, I guess we can’t do anything’? We’ve got to be unified, and we’ve got to be strong,” Kaine said.

Democrats also aren’t closing the door to making additional changes to the sweeping legislation as they try to get the entire caucus familiar with the details.

“It’s an enormous proposal, it’s really important. There are things some Democrats want added, there are some things Democrats want subtracted. So I think we’re going to try to get a real sense of where the caucus is,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress barrels toward debt cliff End the practice of hitting children in public schools Public option fades with little outcry from progressives MORE (D-Conn.).

Asked if he thought there could be additional changes, Durbin added: “I wouldn’t rule it out.”