Senate

Schumer hints at filibuster reform after GOP blocks voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday that Democrats will explore “alternative paths” to pass voting rights legislation after Republicans blocked a bill named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor, didn’t directly mention the legislative filibuster, but floated that Democrats should be willing to go it alone to pass voting rights legislation and that the gears of the Senate have “ossified.”

“Just because Republicans will not join us doesn’t mean Democrats will stop fighting. This is too important. We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward, even if it means going it alone,” Schumer said.

He added that Democrats should “explore whatever paths we have to restore the Senate so it does what the framers intended — debate, deliberate, compromise and vote.”

Schumer on Wednesday met with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and “strategized” with them about having “family discussions” within the caucus about “specific ways to ‘restore the Senate'” to find a path forward on voting rights legislation, a senior Democratic aide told The Hill. 

The aide added that the group of senators, along with others including Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has long advocated for filibuster reform, will continue “in earnest conversations with their colleagues about the need to get voting rights legislation passed immediately.”

The closed-door meeting and Schumer’s public comments come after Republicans blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act from overcoming the 60-vote hurdle needed to start debate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the only Republican who voted to start debate.

Democrats view voting rights and election reform as a top priority, but they’ve struggled to get it through the Senate where Republicans have also twice blocked sweeping bills to overhaul elections.

Outside groups, and a growing number of Democratic senators, are pushing to create an exemption from the filibuster that would let voting rights legislation pass by a simple majority.

After months of setbacks they argue that their colleagues need to accept that there is not a voting bill that can get buy-in from 10 GOP senators.

“The time has come to face reality: there simply are not ten Republican senators who are willing to safeguard our free and fair elections. Democrats must end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

Merkley added that Democrats need to “restore” the Senate.

“Our most fundamental rights and freedoms hang in the balance, and no parliamentary rule will ever be more important than our bedrock rights as Americans,” he said.

In a boost for reform advocates, Biden indicated during a CNN town hall last month that he was open to changing the filibuster for voting rights. But, he warned that he couldn’t lean into the debate until Democrats finish up his spending package because it would frustrate the same Democratic senators that he needs for the social and climate spending legislation.

To change or get rid of the 60-vote filibuster, Democrats would need total unity from within their 50-member caucus, something they don’t have.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are both opposed to nixing the filibuster and others are viewed as wary, though some have signaled they are open to smaller changes specifically for voting legislation.

Manchin, who helped craft the revised voting bill, indicated that he viewed Wednesday’s vote as an opening for broader negotiations to try to pick up more GOP support.

“In the weeks and months ahead, I am committed to building support for this bipartisan compromise that addresses the threats to voting rights across our nation without infringing on states’ rights so that it can move through regular order with bipartisan support, just as it has done for the last 56 years,” Manchin said.

–Updated at 4:16 p.m.

Tags Alex Padilla Amy Klobuchar Angus King Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Filibuster Jeff Merkley Joe Manchin John Lewis Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Tim Kaine voting rights

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