This week: Democrats face crunch time on voting rights
Democrats are hitting a crucial stretch in their push to pass voting rights legislation ahead of the 2022 election.
With Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowing to bring up a vote on changing the Senate rules to allow Democrats to pass voting rights on their own by Jan. 17, Democrats have a matter of days to come up with a deal that unifies their entire caucus.
“I believe the Senate needs to be restored to its rightful status as the world’s greatest deliberative body. … If Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the chamber to protect us from protecting our democracy, then the Senate will debate and consider changes to the rules on or before Jan. 17,” Schumer said during a lengthy floor speech on Friday.
“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster to prevent this body from acting, then I would plead with the Senate — particularly my colleagues on this side of the aisle —to adapt. And we must adapt for the sake of our democracy,” he added.
President Biden and Vice President Harris are also expected to head to Georgia this week to highlight the push for voting rights as states, including Georgia, are debating or have passed new voting rules in the wake of the 2020 election that former President Trump falsely claimed was stolen.
Republicans have used the 60-vote legislative filibuster to block two sweeping election bills and a third voting bill named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would expand the 1965 Voting Rights Act after a key section was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
Schumer has vowed that he will force a vote again on election-related legislation and if Republicans use the filibuster to block it, as they are expected to, he’ll bring up a potential rules change.
Democrats haven’t outlined what their rules proposal will be as they bat around several ideas. One potential change would involve creating a carveout that would exempt voting-related legislation from the 60-vote threshold while leaving it in place for other legislation. They are also discussing a talking filibuster that would allow opponents to delay a bill as long as they hold the floor but that legislation would eventually be able to pass by a simple majority.
Democrats are also discussing smaller changes like moving the emphasis from needing 60 votes to break a filibuster to needing 41 votes to uphold a filibuster, or getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle currently required to start debate while keeping the same threshold in place on needing to end debate.
But to change the rules without GOP support, Schumer will need total unity from all 50 members of his caucus, something he doesn’t have yet.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have been working to try to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) into changing the legislative filibuster without GOP support despite his previous opposition to using the “nuclear option,” changing the rules along a simple majority.
Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have indicated that they remain supportive of a supermajority requirement for legislation, underscoring the long-shot chances for Democrats to win over both of them in roughly a week.
Manchin, after a meeting with Schumer and the group leading the rules change discussions, floated modest rules changes including getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle for starting debate. But he hasn’t indicated that he’s moved off wanting any rules change discussions to be bipartisan.
No Republicans would support lowering the 60-vote hurdle needed for most legislation to pass the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) staff on Sunday blasted out a memo to reporters accusing Democrats of trying to “make another run at their radical takeover — of the Senate, of elections, and of America.”
“Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans have repeatedly stood up to the left and their Big Lie that there is some evil anti-voting conspiracy sweeping America. This week you’ll see even more from us,” they added.
But Democrats view voting rights legislation as a must-pass as former President Trump’s false claim of widespread election fraud during the 2020 election has spread throughout the GOP. Trump’s claims have been dismissed by election experts, as well as William Barr, who served as Trump’s attorney general, and his legal team lost dozens of court challenges.
Nord Stream 2 sanctions
The Senate will vote this week on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to slap sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport gas from Russia to Germany.
Democrats agreed to hold a vote on Cruz’s bill as part of a deal struck last year, where Democrats gave Cruz a vote and the Texas Republican dropped his hold on several of Biden’s nominees, allowing them to be confirmed before the Senate wrapped up its work for 2021.
Cruz will need at least 10 Democratic senators in order to get his bill passed through the Senate.
Though Cruz characterized the chances of his bill passing the Senate as “good,” Democrats are raising concerns about the bill.
The vote comes amid ratcheted up tension with Russia as Moscow amasses troops along its border with Ukraine. The Biden administration is taking part in diplomatic summits this week to try to tamp down tensions.
The Senate will start its week working on Biden’s nominees.
The Senate will vote on Monday evening to take an initial vote on Alan Davidson’s nomination to be an assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information.
Schumer has also teed up Amitabha Bose’s nomination to be administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. The Senate also still needs to finish up work on Holly Thomas’s and Gabriel Sanchez’s nominations to be circuit judges for the 9th Circuit.
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