WASHINGTON – After another failed vote to advance voting rights legislation last week, Democratic lawmakers are debating the merits changes in the filibuster rule that many in the party see as essential.
“The most important vote right now in the Congress of the United States is the vote to respect the sanctity of the vote, the fundamental basis of our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“If there were one vote that the filibuster could enable to go forward, that would be the vote,” Pelosi said.
In a CNN town hall Thursday, President Joe Biden said: “I also think we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster. The idea, for example, my Republican friends say that we’re going to default on the national debt because they’re going to filibuster that and we need 10 Republicans to support us is the most bizarre thing I ever heard.”
The shift in attitude toward the rule comes after Senate Republicans filibustered the Freedom to Vote Act, a pared-back voting rights package pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who aggressively courted Republican votes for the bill. The failed vote was the third voting rights package filibustered by Republicans this year.
“The compromise they voted on last week is perfectly good, but they didn’t get any Republican votes on it,” Pelosi said, emphasizing that voting rights legislation is “fundamental to our democracy.”
Republicans attacked the package, which included changes to campaign finance law, redistricting rules to curb gerrymandering, automatic voter registration and protections against foreign interference in elections, among other policies, as a radical raft of proposals.
“As long as Senate Democrats remain fixated on their radical agenda, this body will continue to do the job the framers assigned it and stop terrible ideas in their tracks,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after blocking a vote.
The filibuster is a procedural rule in the Senate that requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote. The rule is a historical quirk that has been increasingly used by the party out of power to obstruct legislation they oppose, intensifying gridlock in Washington.
Democrats’ frustration on voting rights come as Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country enact dozens of restrictive voting laws in response to debunked claims of widespread voter fraud.
“Across the country, the big lie – the big lie – has spread like a cancer,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday before the failed vote. “The Freedom to Vote Act would provide long-overdue remedies for all these concerns.”
Biden, a former longtime senator who sees himself as a bipartisan dealmaker, indicated during the CNN town hall that he was open to amending the filibuster rule to pass a voting rights package “and maybe more.”
While a majority of senators in the Democratic caucus have expressed an interest in amending the filibuster to overcome partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, lawmakers differ in what changes they’d like to see for the rule.
“I’m not really ready to say ‘Let’s get rid of it altogether,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Sunday in an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” King, like many of his colleagues in the caucus, supports a “talking filibuster” that would require senators blocking legislation to be present on the floor for debate when stopping legislation.
Changing the filibuster would require all 50 Senate Democrats agreeing to amend the rule. Though nearly the entire caucus has expressed openness to changing if not abolishing the rule outright, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., maintain they will not vote to amend the rule.
Democrats have indicated they will try to persuade the two holdout senators that amending the filibuster is the only way to advance bills that counteract what many in the party see as a non-negotiable issue.
“We have to very clearly demonstrate to some of our colleagues that we’ve exhausted every other option,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said after the failed vote. “But patience is not eternal. Time is running out.”
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.