Democrats are mounting a passionate bid to overhaul Senate rules that stand in the way of their sweeping election legislation, arguing that the dark forces unleashed by Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election demand an extraordinary response.
In fiery speeches and interviews, President Joe Biden and the main Democrats in Congress used the first anniversary of the Jan.6 uprising to advance their long-stalled voting, ethics and election agenda. Senate Republicans, who have repeatedly blocked the legislation, accuse the measures of “partisan power grab” and warn that any rule change will one day haunt Democrats under a GOP majority.
Trump’s bogus claims about a stolen election didn’t just incite the mob that stormed Capitol Hill, Democrats say. His relentless campaign of disinformation has also sparked a GOP effort to pass new state laws that made voting more difficult, while in some cases making the election administration more susceptible to political influence.
Many Democrats say now is the time to take decisive action in what they see as the civil rights struggle of the day. Changing Senate rules in early 2022 may offer the last best chance to counter the Republicans’ state-level push ahead of the midterm elections, when the Democratic majority in the House and the weak sway in the Senate at 50-50 could be wiped out.
“If Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the House to prevent us from protecting our democracy, the Senate will debate and consider rule changes,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y, said on Friday.
Yet what action they will take remains highly uncertain, depending on the often elusive support of Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va. Leading Democrats have been meeting with Manchin for weeks, pondering options while recruiting outside allies to pressure his support.
Manchin did not make any firm commitments. He has repeatedly stated that he will not support lowering the 60-vote filibuster threshold for the passage of most laws, a position shared by his centrist colleague Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Until the threshold is lowered, passing electoral legislation could prove difficult, if not impossible.
But Democrats say they are focusing on what is achievable now, amid increasing pressure from allies to act. Even modest changes to Senate rules, they say, would be a big step forward.
Senators love to debate the validity of filibuster and whether laws should be passed by a 60-vote qualified majority or a 51-vote simple majority. But both sides took advantage of the filibuster at one point, and both sides revised the rules when they got a majority of the votes. So what is filibuster and why is it important?
Leaning into the fight, Biden is expected to give a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday focusing on voting rights. And Schumer added to the symbolism of civil rights by setting the Martin Luther King Jr. public holiday of January 17 as the deadline to pass election legislation or consider revising the rules. The Senate is expected to hold a series of test votes this week to highlight the Republican opposition.
“I’m not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because I don’t know which votes will be voted on,” Manchin said last week, noting that he had supported some Senate rule changes in the past. A proposal Democrats are discussing would remove the filibuster on the so-called “motion to proceed” that is needed before a bill can be debated in the Senate.
Republicans say invoking the Jan.6 insurgency is offensive. The voting bills, they say, were largely drafted before the attack and include a liberal priority list that will do little to address the vulnerabilities in the law exposed by Trump’s attempts to overturn the elections.
“It is more than unpleasant for some of our colleagues to lightly invoke the anniversary of January 6 to advance these goals,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “The fact that violent criminals break the law does not entitle the Senate Democrats to break the Senate.
The renewed focus on voting rights comes as much of Biden’s agenda has stalled in Congress. Before Christmas, Manchin single-handedly halted work on Biden’s roughly $ 2 trillion set of social and environmental initiatives, delaying the bill indefinitely.
Civil rights activists are deeply frustrated by this turn of events, saying precious months have been wasted. They see the GOP-backed electoral law changes as a more subtle form of voting restrictions like literacy tests and voting taxes once used to deprive black voters of the right to vote, a key Democratic constituency.
“Sadly, many policymakers haven’t really appreciated the gravity of where we are in this nation right now,” NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson said in an interview, targeting both the House. Blanche de Biden and the Democrats in the Senate. “African Americans have seen this before. We have already experienced this. We need to get beyond procedural conversations and get to the bottom of protecting this fragile thing called democracy. “
If enacted, the Democrats’ legislation would usher in the biggest overhaul of the U.S. election in a generation, removing voting barriers enacted in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics, and limiting partisan influence in politics. the drawing of congressional districts. The package would create national electoral standards that would trump GOP state-level laws. It would also restore the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce electoral laws in states with a history of discrimination.
McConnell ridiculed the effort as being inspired by “the frightening stories liberal activists keep telling about how democracy is on the brink of death.” He recently raised the possibility of closer bipartisan action to underpin a convoluted 19th-century law called the Electoral Count Act that governs the certification of presidential elections – a law Trump sought to exploit to overturn his 2020 defeat. A Compromise about it might be appealing to Manchin, who said all electoral legislation should be enacted on a bipartite basis.
Last week, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine held bipartisan talks with Republican Senators Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Manchin and fellow Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. An update to the voter count law was part of the discussion, according to a spokeswoman for Collins.
Democrats have criticized the GOP’s opening on the Electoral Count Act as a “cynical” political move to do the bare minimum at the federal level while leaving laws in place in GOP-controlled swing states like Georgia.
“What’s the use of certifying the election if I can’t vote in the first place?” said Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, the first African American to represent Georgia in the Senate. He is running for re-election this year.
Republicans warn Democrats will come to regret any change to the filibuster, which seeks to foster compromise by making the legislation intentionally difficult to pass.
“They barely have a majority now,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second House Republican. “Even the strongest majorities end up coming back into the minority. “
The Justice Department is suing Georgia over its electoral law that limits the number of drop boxes in some counties populated with large minority voters. Lawyers will debate whether the intent and effects of the bill are considered discriminatory under the voting rights law, said Christian Grose, political science professor at USC.