60 groups urge Senate Democrats to reform filibuster for voting rights

Sen. Charles Schumer
Associated Press

Dozens of outside groups are urging Senate Democrats to reform the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation, as the caucus nears a decision point on potential rules changes.

Sixty organizations sent a letter, which was exclusively obtained by The Hill ahead of its release, to Senate Democrats on Monday, arguing that a December debt ceiling fight showed how the 60-vote legislative filibuster could be circumvented.

“Just as we needed to extend the debt limit to avoid economic calamity, we need to pass federal democracy and voting legislation to safeguard our democracy,” the groups wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by pro-reform group Fix Our Senate.

“And just as you had earlier been prepared to recognize that the U.S. economy is more important than the filibuster, we urge you to make a similar assessment when it comes to our democracy and our right to vote,” they added.

An October fight over the debt ceiling put new pressure on Senate Democrats to potentially nix the filibuster for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. Republicans — in part driven by an effort to relieve pressure on Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who both support the 60-vote threshold — agreed to a short-term extension.

In December, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) struck a deal to set up a one-time exemption to the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Though the bill that set up the workaround and prevented Medicare cuts still needed 60 votes to clear the Senate, the bill to increase the debt ceiling into 2023 was able to pass the Senate by a simple majority.

The coalition of progressive groups added in their letter on Monday that while McConnell supported a one-time loophole around the legislative filibuster for raising the debt ceiling, Republicans “remain committed to abusing the filibuster to obstruct democracy legislation, such as electoral college reforms, and voting rights legislation, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.”

The letter comes as Schumer is expected to bring up voting rights legislation this month and, if it’s blocked by Republicans, trigger a vote on changing the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass the Senate.

Democrats view voting rights as a top priority as GOP-led states debate new restrictions, and want to pass a bill before the midterms get underway. But legislation is unlikely to get enough support from Senate Republicans, who view the legislation as an overreach by the federal government, to break the filibuster.

“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats last month.

“I believe our constituents deserve to know which Senators choose to hide behind ill-conceived and abused rules and which Senators prefer to restore Senate floor procedures to better align with the Founders’ intentions. … Members will be given the chance to debate on the Senate floor and cast a vote so that their choice on this matter is clear and available for everyone to see,” he added.

Democrats would need total unity from all 50 of their caucus members in order to change the Senate’s rules on their own.

Neither Manchin nor Sinema have signed onto potential changes. A spokesperson for Sinema reiterated last month that she supports the 60-vote hurdle and was wary of the idea of a carve-out that would nix the filibuster for voting rights but keep it intact on other issues.

Schumer tapped a group of Senate Democrats to brainstorm potential changes to the Senate’s rules.

That group has floated a range of options. One idea would be to get rid of the 60-vote hurdle needed to start debate on a bill and come to an agreement on guaranteed amendment votes, but still leave the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in place. That would make it easier for Democrats to debate bills on the floor, but still require 60 votes to ultimately get them to a final vote.

Other ideas being discussed by Democrats include a talking filibuster in which opponents could delay a bill for as long as they could hold the floor but then a bill would ultimately pass by a simple majority; a carve-out from the 60-vote requirement for voting rights legislation, or changing the threshold from needing 60 “yes” votes to advance a bill and break a filibuster to requiring 41 “no” votes to sustain one.

GOP-aligned groups immediately knocked the letter, noting that several groups in the coalition have ties to the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a left-leaning dark money group. 
“This is just another attempt by the liberal dark money behemoth Sixteen-Thirty Fund, which does business as several faux grassroots groups like Fix Our Senate, to seek payback for the massive amount of dark money they spent to elect Joe Biden President and make Chuck Schumer the majority leader in the Senate,” said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of the GOP-aligned Americans for Public Trust.
This story was updated at 3:37 p.m.
Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer filibuster reform Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Lewis Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell Nuclear option voting rights

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