Democrats face moment of truth in filibuster fight

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
  • Chuck Schumer
    Chuck Schumer
    American politician
  • Kyrsten Sinema
    Kyrsten Sinema
    United States Senator from Arizona
  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States
Sens. Sinema, Schumer and Manchin
Sens. Sinema, Schumer and Manchin


Democrats are facing a moment of truth on their months-long push to change the Senate's rules and pass voting rights legislation, with the debate poised to come to a head in a matter of days.

Facing pressure from their own progressive base, Democrats have pledged to pass election-related legislation in response to GOP-controlled states enacting new voting rules following the 2020 election that former President Trump and some of his closest allies falsely have claimed was "rigged."

Democrats face a test this week on their ability to make good on that promise after months of struggling to unify all 50 of their members behind changing the Senate's legislative filibuster so that they can pass voting rights legislation without GOP support.

"This week is the test. ... This is an urgent moment, and it will come to a head this week," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said during an interview with MSNBC.

Democrats are upping their public pressure on the caucus's two holdouts for changing the legislative filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

President Biden and Vice President Harris will travel to Georgia, the heart of the fight over voting rights, on Tuesday, when they are expected to make the case for changing the Senate's filibuster rule in order to pass election legislation. Advocacy groups and election experts have warned Democrats that they are running out of time to enact new rules and work through likely legal challenges before the start of the 2022 primaries.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would discuss the filibuster during his speech, adding, about trying to win over the Senate holdouts, that "everyone is going to have to take a hard look at where they want to be at this moment in history."

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to Democratic senators, is expected to force a vote on two bills this week: the Freedom to Vote Act to overhaul federal elections and legislation named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court.

"The Senate, I believe, stands ready to follow through on the president's call. ... Everyone in this chamber will have a chance to go on record: Will Republicans join Democrats in a bipartisan manner to move forward on defending democracy?" Schumer asked.

Once Republicans block both bills, as they are expected to, Schumer has vowed to force a vote on changing the filibuster rule that requires most legislation to get 60 votes before it can pass the Senate.

But absent a shift from both Manchin and Sinema, Democrats' promise to change the filibuster and pass voting rights before the November elections will fail in the Senate. Schumer has said he will force a vote on rules reforms by Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But Democrats say they want a vote on filibuster reform - even if that vote falls short after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

"I think it's important that people be on the record," said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has been involved in the rules discussions, said he viewed Schumer's deadline as "pretty firm" and that a vote, even if it failed, would be beneficial

"I think we need some finale to this, and I think that includes a discussion and even a vote on rules issues," Kaine said.

Democrats haven't yet laid out what their next steps are on the filibuster, and Schumer, according to a Democratic source, isn't expected to lay out a schedule until after Biden's speech in Georgia.

But underscoring their uphill battle, they still haven't landed on a proposal that would give them the unity they need to change the filibuster on their own.

Democrats are weighing several ideas, including creating a exemption from the filibuster for voting rights legislation but leaving the 60-vote hurdle intact for other bills. But both Manchin and Sinema have sounded skeptical about the idea of a carveout, and Republicans have warned that lowering the filibuster for one issue would guarantee that eventually it is nixed entirely.

They've also floated the idea of a talking filibuster. That would allow opponents to delay a bill for as long as they could hold the floor, but after they were done supporters could pass a bill by a simple majority. Democrats are also looking at smaller changes including moving from requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster to requiring 41 votes to sustain it or getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle for starting debate on a bill while still keeping the supermajority requirement in place for ending debate.

Complicating the talks for Democrats, some senators support going to a talking filibuster, some support a carveout and some are waiting to see what the proposal is before taking a position.

"If there's a real proposal, I'll take a look at it," said Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

But those ideas will go nowhere unless all 50 Democrats support using the "nuclear option," when the rules are changed by a simple majority. Manchin has previously opposed changing the rules along party lines and said amid the current negotiations that he believes changes to the rules should be bipartisan.

"There are several options," Durbin said. "But it starts with the premise that we believe we have to restore the Senate to the point where we can actually consider measures like this."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting