Schumer Maps Gambit to Get Voting Bill to Senate for Debate
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he will try to break a logjam on two Democrat-drafted voting rights bills and begin debate on the Senate floor this week, but Republicans could still block a final vote on the measure.
The move comes as Democrats in the chamber continue a long-shot bid for an elusive agreement to change the filibuster rules and get the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Schumer told all Senate Democrats he plans to use a procedural gambit to prevent Republicans from blocking the beginning of debate. The House will first pass legislation that combines two bills that were held up in the evenly divided Senate in 2021 and then send them to the Senate, which can use the legislation to bypass the typical 60-vote threshold to proceed.
Schumer pointed out Republicans can still scuttle it later before a vote on final passage.
“With this procedure, we will finally have an opportunity to debate voting rights legislation – something that Republicans have thus far denied,” Schumer said in a memo to Democrats that was obtained by Bloomberg News. “Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us – which we know from past experience will not happen – or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before.”
Biden plans to go to Capitol Hill on Thursday to step up pressure on Senate Democrats to change the filibuster rules and enable passage of voting legislation.
A White House official said Biden is focusing on “the urgent need” to pass the voting-rights bills in the face of persistent attacks on the integrity of U.S. elections through false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential result was fraudulent.
Biden’s Capitol visit will take place two days after he traveled to Georgia to rally support for the legislation and amid a growing backlash from party allies who say he’s not doing enough.
“The threat to our democracy is so grave, we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote,” Biden said Tuesday in Atlanta. “Let the majority prevail.”
Biden and Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to pressure reluctant Senate Democrats -- including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema -- to change Senate filibuster rules so that the voting rights legislation could clear the chamber on a simple majority vote. It takes 60 votes to end a filibuster -- essentially endless debate -- and move forward on most legislation.
Schumer has vowed to have a Senate floor showdown on the voting rights measures by Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He said he’ll try to bring up a broad Democrat-drafted voting rights overhaul bill and a narrower bill called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that restores the Justice Department’s ability to require some states to get pre-clearance for changes to their voting laws.
The broader measure, backed by all Senate Democrats, would create an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday and provide voters with at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections. It also is designed to curtail partisan “gerrymandering” of congressional districts and would put in place new campaign finance disclosure requirements that include mandating Super-PACs and other outside groups report their donors.
In the House, Democratic leaders said Wednesday they’re preparing to send the legislation to the Senate to jump-start debate.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, said the House’s goal is to ensure the voting rights bill passes “with the fierce urgency of now, by any means necessary. Period. Full stop.”
House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said getting senators started debating the contents of a voting rights bill is an important first step.
“We got to have the discussion,” Clyburn said. “Who knows where the discussion may lead to?” he added. “I’ve seen a lot of things change here with discussions, and maybe people can sit down and find out what their differences are doing these discussions.”
Still, Senate Republicans show no sign of breaking their unified opposition to the legislation.
They have accused the Democrats of hypocrisy because they have in the past defended the filibuster. The Republicans have threatened to retaliate if Democrats succeed in changing the rules and accused Biden of exacerbating political tensions in the country. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s speech in Georgia “deliberately divisive.”
“Twelve months ago the president said that politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything it its path,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “But yesterday he poured a giant can of gasoline on the fire.”
He called the speech an “advertisement for the legislative filibuster.”
Democrats still have no agreement to change the filibuster rules. Manchin this week reiterated that he opposes both getting rid of the filibuster entirely and changing Senate rules via a simple majority vote, the so-called nuclear option. He said any changes to the chamber’s rules should be made with support from at least two-thirds of the Senate, a position that likely dooms the rules-change effort.
Manchin met with Schumer and other Democrats early Wednesday, but he and Schumer indicated afterward that they hadn’t come to any agreement or resolution and that talks are ongoing.
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