Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has outlined a plan for beginning debate in the Senate on two major pieces of legislation that would enact substantial, new protections for voting rights at the federal level — although ending debate and moving to a final vote would still be subject to the Senate’s filibuster rules, which require 60 votes in the 100-member chamber for many moves. At that point, Democratic leaders appear to be planning for a confrontation over the filibuster, since combining the close party breakdown in the chamber with Republicans’ refusals to back the voting rights pushes means that without a rules change, the measures won’t even have a chance to pass — even if 51 votes could be cast in support.
The fight for voting rights takes persistence. As MLK exhorted, “The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late.” Thank you, @POTUS, for refusing to relent until the work is finished. Welcome back to Georgia where we get good done. #FTVA #JLVRAA
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 10, 2022
As explained by The Washington Post, the plan for starting debate on the measures — which would ordinarily be subject to the filibuster rules — involves “having the House amend an existing, unrelated bill dealing with NASA and sending it back to the Senate.” The amendments would attach the proposed voting rights protections — including those found in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — to the bill. Under those conditions, just 51 votes have to be cast in favor of starting debate for the process to get moving. In a memo to his colleagues, Schumer asked as follows:
‘If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same? In the coming days, we will most likely confront this sobering question — together.’
Last year alone, 19 states enacted 34 new laws attacking voting rights. Republican legislators in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year.
Adversaries and allies alike are watching whether American democracy can meet this moment.
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 12, 2022
Democrats could change the Senate’s filibuster rules to pass the voting rights measures, but so-called moderates including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) keep standing in the way, clinging to the filibuster rather than the opportunities provided by changing how things are done. Schumer said that “Manchin and Sinema are talking to us, and we are going to hope to get this done. It is too important to drop.” That’s a crux of this push.
I'll be clear: to protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 12, 2022
Holding a vote on whether to change the Senate’s rules to allow for passing voting rights legislation will allow Senators including Manchin and Sinema to clearly establish their positions. As Schumer observed, “Senators can finally make clear to the American people where they stand on protecting our democracy and preserving the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot.” Sinema could be in particular jeopardy — there’s already a movement in her home state to launch a challenge against her in the next Democratic primary race for her seat.
Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to do the right thing and call a vote on crucial voting rights legislation. Future generations are counting on us to protect our democracy. I wrote out some thoughts about why this is so important. https://t.co/hjab4Ejxox
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 13, 2022