Senate

Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is finally giving his progressive colleagues a chance to vent their frustrations with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) over the stalled Democratic agenda.

With Democratic control of Congress in serious danger of slipping away and President Biden’s legislative agenda stalled, frustrated Democrats are looking for someone to blame and Schumer this week is giving them a cathartic chance to point the finger.

  Schumer said Tuesday that he is moving ahead with a vote on bypassing a Republican filibuster of voting rights legislation even though he knows full well that Manchin and Sinema won’t support any attempt to change the Senate rules with a simple-majority vote.   

  “The public is entitled to know where each senator stands on an issue as sacrosanct as defending our democracy,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday as he brought voting rights legislation to the floor as part of a plan to bypass a Republican filibuster of the legislation.   

  “The American people deserve to see their senators go on record on whether they will support these bills or oppose them. Indeed, that may be the only way to make progress on this issue for now: for the public to see where each of us in this chamber stands,” he said.   

  The Senate has already voted three times in the past year on voting rights legislation, putting Republicans on record multiple times as opposing efforts to stop restrictive laws passed by state legislatures around the country. Only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), voted to proceed to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in November.   

  By entwining voting rights and filibuster reform, Schumer is making the vote on changing the Senate’s rules highly uncomfortable for Manchin and Sinema.   

  Majority leaders hardly ever schedule votes they know will fail, but Democratic senators said members of their caucus are itching for a showdown on voting rights legislation after the frustrating failure to pass Biden’s Build Back Better Act last year.     

  Schumer, who is up for reelection this year, may need to worry about restless base voters at home.   

  He got a wake-up call in early 2017 when thousands gathered outside his apartment in Brooklyn to demand that he put up more of a fight against then-President Trump, urging him to “grow a spine” and “champion the resistance” or “get out of the way.”   

  Schumer also faces a possible primary challenge from rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) or another ambitious politician seeking to capitalize on progressives’ disappointment with the failure to pass major reforms in Washington, though Schumer would be extremely tough to beat.     

  Ocasio-Cortez, who hasn’t ruled out a Senate run but hasn’t shown any real interest, either, criticized Democratic leaders last year for being too deferential to Manchin in the negotiations over Biden’s human infrastructure agenda.     

The day Manchin announced on Fox News that he wouldn’t vote for Biden’s climate and human infrastructure bill, she tweeted that “a handful of us in the House warned this would happen if Dem leaders gave Manchin everything he wanted.”

  One Democratic senator said Schumer has a problem with the party’s progressive base because he set expectations very high at the start of last year, when Democrats unexpectedly captured the Senate majority after winning two runoff races in Georgia.

  “Schumer doesn’t manage expectations at all. It’s all, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. It’s all going to get done,’” said the senator, who pointed out that the two-track strategy to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill in tandem with a larger climate and social spending bill never had buy-in from Manchin.

  “He never got a commitment from Manchin to vote for this thing, so he’s got the House of Representatives passing a bill for Build Back Better on the well-founded expectation that a deal had been struck when no deal had been struck because of the wishful thinking and positive spin out of Schumer’s operation,” the lawmaker said.

   Democratic senators say they view the vote on changing the Senate’s filibuster rule as a crucial part of overturning restrictive voting rules enacted by 19 states since the 2020 presidential election.   

  Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said a vote on filibuster reform is “definitely” also a vote on protecting voting rights.

  “My hope is that everybody will be on board and there’s such a thing as changing one’s mind on seeing the reality of what is going on all across our country,” she said when asked about Manchin’s and Sinema’s opposition.

  Manchin and Sinema announced last week that they would not support changing the Senate’s rules with a party-line vote, but other Democratic senators don’t want to let them squash their reform push without registering their opposition on the record.   

  Democratic senators see voting rights legislation as core civil rights legislation and worry that failure to act in Congress could imperil their Senate and House majorities by making it tougher for minority voters in urban areas to cast ballots.  

  “There are some things that have historic value. This debate and this vote have that historic value. It really gets to the heart of who we are as a nation, and I think members should be on the record,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).  

  Many Democrats are still angry that Manchin and Sinema used their leverage in the 50-50 Senate to substantially revise and ultimately stall the Build Back Better Act without ever having to vote on the legislation and its popular provisions.   

  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading proponent of Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending agenda, told reporters Tuesday that he would be open to supporting a Democratic primary challenger against either Manchin or Sinema in 2024.  

  Sanders said he thinks “there is a very good chance” they will face competition in their future primaries, adding, “Yeah, I would” be open to supporting their challengers.   

  Sanders has also called on Schumer to force Manchin to vote against the Build Back Better Act, as well.  

  Schumer at first seemed on board with that aggressive response, pledging last month “the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act very early in the new year so that every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” referring to Manchin’s stunning interview on “Fox News Sunday” when he pledged to vote against the bill.   

 Schumer, however, hasn’t since said when the bill may come to the floor for a vote, and Democratic senators predict the legislation will have to be overhauled to satisfy Manchin.   

Senate