Democrats scramble to lock down Manchin on filibuster

Democrats are putting the squeeze on Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal The names to know as Biden mulls Breyer's replacement Poll: Sinema approval higher among Arizona Republicans than Democrats MORE (D-W.Va.), as they race the clock to try to figure out what, if any, filibuster changes can pass muster in a 50-50 Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Voting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress MORE’s decision to force a vote on changes to the rules by Jan. 17 puts Democrats on a high-profile collision course with their own colleagues absent an agreement, an effort that the New York Democrat acknowledges is an “uphill fight.” 

Democrats, under pressure from their own colleagues and outside groups, are scrambling to bring the negotiations with their conservative colleague to a close as they vow to bring the issue to a head in a matter of days. 

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“Manchin has said all along that he wants to deal with Republicans and we have all been very patient,” Schumer told reporters. “I believe he knows that we will not get any Republican cooperation.” 

Schumer — while characterizing the rules change effort as a “long, hard struggle”— added that there have been “serious discussions” with Manchin. 

A group of Democrats that have spearheaded the voting rights and rules discussions met with Schumer and Manchin on Tuesday afternoon as part of a lengthy outreach process to try to get Manchin to where he could support changing the legislative filibuster, which requires most legislation to get 60 votes to advance in the Senate. 

Democrats are barreling forward with the rules change vote regardless of whether they have the 50 votes needed to deploy the “nuclear option,” which allows Democrats to change the rules on their own. 

By calling a vote on the Senate floor, Schumer will force his own members to go on the record, putting a spotlight on intraparty divisions. 

Manchin isn’t the only Democratic senator who hasn’t signed on to changes to the legislative filibuster. Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaThe names to know as Biden mulls Breyer's replacement Poll: Sinema approval higher among Arizona Republicans than Democrats Schumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' MORE (D-Ariz.) also reiterated recently that she supports the 60-vote hurdle, but Democrats working on voting rights have focused much of their behind-the-scenes efforts on Manchin. 

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“I fully support Schumer saying there’s a deadline and it’s the 17th. …He believes we need deadlines,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams MORE (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2. 

Pressed on the possibility of forcing a vote even if Manchin and Sinema aren’t on board with changing the filibuster, Durbin indicated that he thought Democrats should move forward. 

“You’ll never know until you have the vote, frankly, and I hope that they will be on board,” Durbin said. “We’ve spent month after month after month with both of them. … We’re trying to convince both of them, give us a fair chance to deal with voting rights.” 

Voting rights and changes to the filibuster are linked in the Senate because Republicans have used the procedural hurdle to block two election-related bills and separate legislation named after the late Rep. John LewisJohn LewisIt's time for 'Uncle Joe' to take off the gloves against Manchin and Sinema Trump and Biden should stop denigrating US elections Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time MORE (D-Ga.) that would strengthen and expand the 1965 Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

Supporters of filibuster reform have slowly made progress within the Senate Democratic caucus after starting in 2021, when Democrats took back the majority, with several senators either lukewarm or opposed to making changes to the 60-vote filibuster. 

Since then they’ve slowly whittled down the number of members who are on-the-fence. Advocates view Manchin and Sinema as the only roadblocks left.

Schumer, during an interview with CNN’s “New Day,” argued that voting rights was too important for Democrats to allow Manchin and Sinema off the hook on the filibuster discussion. 

“There have been constant and just about every senator has been talking to both senators — to Senator Manchin and to Senator Sinema about how important these issues are, not only to our caucus, to our country. Senators are going up to them and saying, ‘I'll lose my election if they -- you allow these changes to occur,’” Schumer said. 

“The bottom line is this: they must allow us to pass these two vital pieces of legislation, even if not a single Republican joins us,” he added. 

Democrats haven’t landed on a specific proposal as they’ve tried to give space to Manchin. 

Democrats have floated a talking filibuster that would let opponents slow down a bill for as long as they could hold the floor, but then the bill would be able to pass by a simple majority. 

Another idea being discussed would be to create a carveout that would exempt voting rights legislation from the filibuster while keeping it intact for other areas — an idea endorsed by President BidenJoe BidenNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Clyburn predicts Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs would get GOP votes Overnight Defense & National Security — US delivers written response to Russia MORE

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They’ve also looked at smaller rules changes including getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle for starting debate. That change would leave the hurdle in place for ending debate, meaning they could debate voting rights legislation but would still need GOP support to ultimately pass it. 

Democrats have also looked at getting a guarantee on amendment votes or making it easier to get votes on bills that get significant support in committee.

Manchin, while stressing that talks are ongoing, doubled down Tuesday on his skepticism of changing the rules along party lines. Though Democrats used the “nuclear option” in 2013 to get rid of the 60-vote hurdle for executive nominees and lower-level court nominees, Manchin opposed those changes at the time. Democrats had a 55-seat majority in 2013, giving them more flexibility than they have in the current fight. Three Democrats at the time voted against the rules change. 

Manchin said that it was his “preference” that any rules change have Republican support. 

“Being open to a rules change that would create a nuclear option, it's very, very difficult. It's a heavy lift," Manchin said. 

He also appeared skeptical of creating a carve-out for voting rights, saying that “anytime there's a carveout, you eat the whole turkey.” After the meeting with Schumer and other Democrats late Tuesday afternoon, Manchin floated more modest rules changes, including getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle for starting debate, but also appeared to stick by having a supermajority requirement before a bill can get to a final vote. 

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Democrats are feeling pressure to move quickly to pass voting rights legislation as they draw closer to the start of the 2022 election. Democrats initially wanted to pass a measure by the start of the August recess last year and then the end of 2021. They now view Jan. 17 as a crucial date if they are going to be able to implement voting legislation and fend off potential lawsuits before the start of the 2022 primaries. 

Democrats are hopeful that the negotiating group can win over Manchin in the end, giving them a badly needed win after the party was forced to punt some of its biggest priorities into 2022. But, several Democrats acknowledge, they aren’t sure what exactly such an agreement would look like.

“I don’t know what convinces him,” Durbin said, asked if they can win over Manchin. “I hope they do. I wish them well.”