Senate Democrats call special caucus meeting ahead of filibuster fight

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters after hearing from President Biden at a Democratic caucus luncheon at the Senate Russell Office building to discuss voting rights and filibuster reform on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are convening a special, in-person caucus meeting on Tuesday as they brace for a fight on voting rights and the filibuster to come to a head.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called the meeting for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, a source confirmed to The Hill. Unlike most of the caucus meetings in the wake of the rise of the omicron coronavirus variant, the meeting will be in person. 

The meeting comes as the Senate is expected to formally start debate on Tuesday on voting legislation that combines the Freedom to Vote Act, which would overhaul federal elections and campaign finance laws, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which strengthens and expands the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

It will be the first in-person meeting for Senate Democrats since both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated that they support keeping the 60-vote filibuster. Though Sinema reiterated her position before a caucus lunch with Biden, Manchin waited until after the meeting to release a statement.

Despite the setback, Schumer is signaling that he’s vowing to push forward with his plan to force a voting rights debate. Democrats view the bills as must-pass as GOP-controlled states enact new voting rules in the wake of the 2020 election that former President Trump falsely claimed was “stolen.”

Democrats are using a procedural loophole to sidestep the need to break a filibuster to start debate on the bill. But they’ll still need 60 votes to end debate on the bill, a vote that is expected to take place on Wednesday. 

Once Republicans block the voting bill, Schumer is signaling that he plans to move forward with forcing a vote on trying to change the Senate’s rules. 

“I’m going down to Washington, and we are going to debate voting rights. We are going to debate it, and, in the Senate, you know we need 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster … but since we only have 50 Democrats in our razor-thin majority, the only path forward on this important issue is to change the rules to bypass the filibuster,” Schumer said at an event earlier Monday. 

He added, in reference to Sinema and Manchin, that “there are two Democrats who don’t want to make that happen. But the fight is not over, far from it.”

But the attempt to change the filibuster appears doomed given opposition from Manchin and Sinema.

In order to change the rules without GOP support, Schumer needs total unity from all 50 members of his caucus. That would require him to meet the unlikely hurdle of being able to win over Manchin and Sinema at the 11th hour, with neither of them appearing to move on the rules debate. 

The meeting comes as Schumer hasn’t yet said how Democrats will propose to change the rules.

They have floated implementing a talking filibuster that would allow opponents to delay a bill for as long as they can hold the floor, but after that, it would be able to pass by a simple majority. They are also discussing creating a carveout that would exempt voting rights legislation from the 60-vote hurdle but leave it in place for other issues.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Joe Manchin John Lewis Kyrsten Sinema
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