Democrats push Manchin on ‘nuclear option’ for voting rights 

Senate Democrats are escalating pressure on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to get behind using the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster and break a months-long stalemate on voting rights legislation.

The flurry of talks — including dedicating a closed-door caucus lunch to the issue despite a public focus on passing President Biden’s climate and social spending bill — comes as Democrats are facing intense pressure to pass election legislation though there isn’t yet a clear path forward.

A group of Democrats, tapped by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), met with Manchin Tuesday as part of rolling discussions. But Manchin, simultaneously, is pushing for rules changes to be bipartisan and holding talks with Republicans, who are unlikely to support the sort of reform needed to get voting legislation passed.  

Underscoring the frustration within the caucus, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) spoke out during the Democratic lunch, and separately on the Senate floor, about the need to pass voting rights legislation before taking up the Build Back Better legislation and that it would be “irresponsible” for Democrats not to act.

“I’m struck by the speed with which we decided to change the rules when it came to the economy,” he told reporters, referring to the one-time exemption for the debt ceiling. “But this has dragged on for months. Our democracy is clearly in peril.”

Warnock said that he had spoken to Democrats, including Manchin, over the weekend but that “Democrats have to decide — first of all it’s a moral question — but how do you tell the people, as they did in January and in November, to stand up and use their power and their voice if we won’t use ours?”

Warnock isn’t alone in wanting to move voting rights before the end of the year, which would require changing the rules with only Democratic votes.

“I say that we need to change the rules so that we can get voter protection legislation done,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), while acknowledging they didn’t yet have the votes to do so.

Tensions have been simmering for months among Democrats and outside groups about the inability to get voting rights and election reform legislation passed. The issue was viewed as a top priority when they retook control of both Congress and the White House in January, but multiple bills have run into the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Schumer has vowed that he wants to pass voting rights by the end of the year and said Tuesday that there are “active discussions going on.”

“I think there’s a universal view in our caucus that we need to get something done. … There’s a strong belief in the Senate that we can restore the Senate, and at the same time, deal with voting rights, and that’s what we’re aiming to do,” he said.

As part of the effort to find a path forward, Schumer appointed a group of Democratic senators, who lead the talks on voting rights legislation, to spearhead discussions within the caucus about how to change the Senate rules. That group includes Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The three Democrats met with Manchin on Tuesday, which they stressed was part of ongoing discussions they were having with their conservative colleague.

“Little by little we’re making progress,” Kaine said about the discussions with Manchin, adding that they have a “narrow task” but are “making some progress.”

Though nixing or making changes to the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation is an idea that’s gained quick traction within the 50-vote Democratic caucus, Manchin has been a key holdout. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has also said she doesn’t support nixing the filibuster and has appeared skeptical about the idea of exceptions for specific issues.

Manchin caught the attention of voting rights activists this week when asked about a carveout for voting rights, an idea he has previously opposed. He told reporters, “We’re talking about that. Talking about everything, the rules.”

But to get that rules change through the Senate, Democrats would have to deploy the nuclear option to change the rules with only a simple majority, something Manchin has long opposed.

Manchin said on Tuesday that he thought changes to the Senate rules need to be bipartisan. To change the rules without the nuclear option, Democrats would likely need 67 votes, meaning the support of at least 17 GOP senators.

“All of my discussions have been with bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats. The rules change should be done to be where we all have input in this rules change because we’re going to have to live with it,” Manchin said.

Manchin, as first reported by The Hill, is having discussions with Republicans about smaller rules changes that would leave the filibuster intact, with an eye toward making it easier to get debate on bills and amendment votes.

Manchin convened a bipartisan group in his Senate basement office this week, including Tester, Kaine and King but also GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Mitt Romney (Utah).

The group didn’t reach an agreement but discussed ideas such as eliminating the 60-vote threshold currently needed to start debate, while still requiring 60 votes to end debate; how to come to an agreement on guaranteed amendment votes; and even a talking filibuster, but under the current 60-vote requirement.

“We’ve had informal talks on several different occasions … to try to find a way to make it simpler, to make it easier to get on subject matter [bills],” Rounds said.

Romney added there was no “meeting of the minds” on rules changes but that Blunt walked through previous discussions with Schumer, when Schumer was the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, about changing the Senate rules.

“I didn’t commit to any of them, and I’m open to discussing what’s going on, but there was no Republican interest in the idea that we do a talking filibuster but at the end 51 votes could decide. That’s eliminating the filibuster,” Romney said, adding that smaller changes could be “worth considering.”

Democratic senators are brushing aside concerns that Manchin’s talks with Republicans impact their separate talks about changing the rules with only Democratic votes.

Kaine said that he thought the bipartisan meeting “was very helpful” to “reality test” some of the ideas but that he thought Democrats would ultimately need to change the rules on their own, which would require winning over Manchin.

“The answer is yes,” Kaine said about Democrats needing to change the rules on their own. “The Republicans are not going to help us do something that would advance voting rights, [but] they won’t be unhappy with some of the changes.”

Tags Angus King Chuck Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Mazie Hirono Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Nuclear option Raphael Warnock Roy Blunt Susan Collins Tim Kaine voting rights

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video