This week: Senate set for voting rights fight
The Senate’s months-long fight over voting is set to come to a head this week before lawmakers leave town for the July 4 break.
The Senate is poised to leave town for two weeks on Thursday, while the House is in town through next week before leaving until July 19.
The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on a sweeping bill to overhaul federal elections, known as the For the People Act. The legislation is guaranteed to fail to get the 60 votes needed to advance past a GOP filibuster, with Republicans dug in against the bill.
But Democrats are hoping to be able to unite their 50 members in support of it in an effort to put the political spotlight on Republican opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday that they were still working to win over the caucus’s lone holdout: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“As we speak, we are working to come up with an agreement to compromise with Joe Manchin,” Schumer told reporters in New York.
The For the People Act, among other initiatives aimed at expanding voting, 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.
It also overhauls campaign finance rules, changes the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, imposes new ethics rules for public officials and establishes new requirements on congressional redistricting.
Schumer is bringing an updated version, spearheaded by Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), to the floor that largely leaves the bill intact but gives states and local governments more flexibility in implementing the bill’s provisions.
But Manchin has said he doesn’t support it, arguing that it’s too broad and warning it will spark divisions because it doesn’t have any GOP support.
Instead, he circulated a list of what he can support and briefed Senate Democrats at length during a closed-door lunch late last week.
The ideas that garnered Manchin’s approval include making Election Day a public holiday, mandating at least 15 consecutive days for early voting in federal elections, banning gerrymandering and establishing automatic voter registration through the DMV.
Manchin also backs tighter campaign finance requirements currently in the For the People Act, including requiring online and digital ads to disclose their source similar to TV and radio ads, enforcing tighter ethics requirements for presidents and vice presidents and requiring campaigns and committees to report foreign contacts.
But he’s also recommending jettisoning one of the more controversial parts of the For the People Act, public financing of campaigns; while he supports absentee voting, he doesn’t go so far to endorse no-excuse absentee voting; and, in a move likely to rankle some Democrats, Manchin is proposing voter ID requirements with the possibility of alternatives such as a utility bill to provide proof of identity in order to vote.
Manchin hasn’t said how he will vote on Tuesday but hinted that if he and Schumer can reach a deal, he would support advancing the elections bill.
“If there’s a substitute [amendment] that keeps everything open, I think we all want to do that,” he said.
But Manchin’s changes won’t be enough to win over enough Republicans to avoid the legislation falling to a filibuster. Manchin opposes nixing or making changes to the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
“I would make this observation about the revised version … all Republicans I think will oppose that as well if that were to be what surfaced on the floor,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, referring to Manchin’s proposal.
Talks on a bipartisan infrastructure plan are coming down to the wire with President Biden back in Washington, D.C., days before senators leave town.
A proposal put forward by a group of consensus-minded senators is gaining traction, with what was a group of roughly 10 growing to a group of 21.
But there are still big hurdles to clinching an agreement that can get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.
The group, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), still haven’t locked down how they would pay for their framework — which spends $973 billion over five years and roughly $1.2 trillion over eight years — amid pushback from senators and the White House over indexing the gas tax to inflation. The group also proposes redirecting unused coronavirus funds, which Democrats are opposed to.
“The administration, therefore, will need to come forward with some other ideas without raising taxes,” Portman told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday about the group potentially nixing the gas tax increase.
Biden previously said that he would review the bipartisan plan on Monday, and Republicans are using him to step up his personal involvement. Though the White House has blessed the bipartisan talks, Biden hasn’t yet signaled if he can support their framework.
“President Biden: If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it is there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News during an interview on Sunday.
But Biden is also facing an increasingly restless progressive wing that views the bipartisan talks as a waste of time after watching them drag out for months — first between Republican and the White House and now with the Senate gang.
Democrats instead are itching to pass Biden’s sweeping infrastructure proposal — which merges a $2.3 trillion jobs plan with a $1.8 trillion families plan — under reconciliation, a budget procedure that would let them bypass the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate.
Democrats are eyeing an ambitious plan that they would need to marshal their members to support, greenlighting up to $6 trillion in spending and pledging to expand Medicare.
“There is a gaping hole in Medicare that leaves out dental, vision, and hearing coverage. This is a serious problem. I’m working with @SenSanders to push to include dental, vision, and hearing Medicare coverage in the American Jobs and Families Plans,” Schumer tweeted on Sunday, tagging Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
To go it alone, Schumer needs all 50 of his members on board. Progressive have suggested that they could support doing a smaller bipartisan bill only if they have a guarantee that they will have the support needed to greenlight and ultimately pass a bigger Democratic-only bill.
But Manchin has rebuffed calls from his colleagues for him to pledge, in advance, that he’ll support using reconciliation.
“I would never ask any of my colleagues for an iron-clad commitment … and I expect the same from them,” Manchin said, asked about the push from his progressive colleagues for an iron-clad guarantee.
The House is set to roll back several Trump-era rules under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to take aim at recent executive branch rules and regulations.
The House has teed up votes on three Trump-era regulations, with each of the resolutions already passing the Senate this year.
The House will try to repeal a so-called true lender rule that governs partnerships between banks and third-party lenders that allow consumers to take loans with interest rates above their states’ maximum.
The House is also set to try to repeal a Trump administration rule related to how workplace discrimination claims are resolved and a separate rule that got rid of methane emission standards for the oil and gas sector.
Congress is set to take another step toward repealing the nearly two-decade-old Iraq War authorization this week.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to take up, and is expected to advance, legislation from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMFs), both of which are related to Iraq.
It’s a significant step forward in Congress’s war powers debate, which has been stuck in limbo for years amid divisions not only between the two parties in Congress but also the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The House passed legislation last week to repeal the 2002 AUMF.
Before the Senate takes up the election legislation, Schumer has scheduled votes on two nominees: Christopher Fonzone to be general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Kiran Ahuja to be director of the Office of Personnel Management.
The Senate had previously called off a scheduled vote on Ahuja’s nomination after Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) were absent due to family emergencies.
Republicans have lined up against Ahuja’s nomination, meaning Democrats are likely to need all 50 of their members and Vice President Harris present to get her confirmed.