Schumer tees up showdown on voting rights, filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved on Tuesday to bring the months-long fight over voting rights to a head, paving the way for a showdown on the legislative filibuster.

Schumer, from the Senate floor, moved to formally end debate on voting legislation that combines the Freedom to Vote Act, which overhauls federal elections and campaign finance laws, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which strengthens the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That is expected to set up a vote on Wednesday, though it could be delayed until Thursday, where the legislation will need 60 votes to advance in the Senate. Republicans are expected to block the bill, and once that happens Schumer is vowing to bring up a vote on changing the Senate’s rules.

“The eyes of the nation will be watching what happens this week in the United States Senate. … Members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote, especially on an issue as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as voting rights, and the public, the public is entitled to know where each senator stands on an issue as sacrosanct as defending our democracy,” Schumer said.

Schumer added that if Republicans block the voting bill, as they are expected to, then the Senate “must consider and vote on the rules changes that are appropriate and necessary to restore the Senate and make voting legislation possible.”

Schumer’s decision to plow forward comes even as Senate Democrats don’t have the support needed to change the rules. Without GOP help, Democrats need total unity from their 50 caucus members to push through a change to the legislative filibuster with a simple majority, known as using the nuclear option.

But both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated last week that they support the legislative filibuster, which requires most bills to get 60 votes to advance in the Senate. Without winning over both, the Democratic push to change the Senate’s rules will fall short.

Democrats are expected to hold a special, in-person caucus meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, giving them a chance to meet face to face for the first time since their uphill hopes of changing the filibuster unraveled late last week. Though Sinema gave her floor speech before President Biden met with Senate Democrats, Manchin waited to release his statement until after the lunch.

Democrats haven’t yet outlined how they will try 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.