Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Monday that he will force a vote by Jan. 17 on changing the Senate’s rules if Republicans again block voting rights legislation.
“The fight for the ballot is as old as the Republic. Over the coming weeks, the Senate will once again consider how to perfect this union and confront the historic challenges facing our democracy,” Schumer wrote in a letter sent to the Senate Democratic Caucus.
“We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us. But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections,” he added.
Republicans have used the 60-vote legislative filibuster to block voting rights and election reforms bills over the past year, arguing that they are a federal overreach. But Schumer, in a separate letter to the caucus last month, vowed to bring up voting legislation and force a debate on changing the filibuster.
Schumer’s new timeline, outlined in Monday’s letter, comes as the Senate is returning to Washington this week after leaving in mid-December without a deal on the path forward for voting rights legislation.
Democrats view voting rights and legislation to overhaul elections and campaign finance as crucial as GOP-led states debate and enact new voting rules. And in a signal of an argument likely to be echoed by Democrats this week, Schumer used his Monday letter to the caucus to link voting rights legislation to the quickly approaching anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“Make no mistake about it: this week Senate Democrats will make clear that what happened on January 6th and the one-sided, partisan actions being taken by Republican-led state legislatures across the country are directly linked, and we can and must take strong action to stop this anti-democratic march,” Schumer wrote in the letter.
“Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process, and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm,” he added.
Schumer’s timeline puts new pressure on long-running negotiations within the caucus about potential changes to come to a conclusion.
Democrats haven’t settled on a plan but are discussing a range of ideas, including creating a carveout from the filibuster for voting rights legislation, implementing a talking filibuster that would let bills pass with a simple majority or moving from requiring 60 “yes” votes to sustain a filibuster to requiring 41 “no” votes to sustain it.
But to change the rules without GOP support, which they aren’t expected to get, Schumer would need total unity from all 50 of his members — something he doesn’t yet have.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have both reiterated recently that they support the 60-vote hurdle and both have appeared cool to the idea of a carveout that would exempt certain bills but leave the filibuster intact for others.
A group within the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), have been in talks with Manchin and met with Sinema before the holiday break. Those talks continued over the weeks-long recess and are expected to continue this week.
The legislative filibuster has been a perennial headache for Democrats, forcing them to scrap some of their biggest priorities including expanded background checks for gun purchases, raising the minimum wage and, for the moment, immigration reform.
There’s growing support within the caucus for changes to the 60-vote legislative filibuster, including Tester backing a talking filibuster and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection this year, supporting lowering the threshold for voting rights legislation.
President Biden also told ABC News’s David Muir in a recent interview that he would support fundamental changes to Senate rules in order to pass election reform legislation.
“The only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making an exception on voting rights of the filibuster,” Biden said.
Schumer has vowed for months, when asked about filibuster reform, that all options were “on the table” for getting voting rights legislation passed through the Senate.
He leaned in further during his Monday letter, arguing that the Senate rules had been “hijacked to guarantee obstruction.”
“We must adapt,” he added. “The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before.”