On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer notified Senate Democrats he is prioritizing an effort to “restore the Senate,” and do something about the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation. Politico has a bit more information on what “restore the Senate” means, and also why Schumer is so intent on trying to get the budget reconciliation for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan done before Christmas.
For one thing, they’ve got to have the Sen. Joe Manchin issue dealt with, and BBB behind them, before they can tackle reforming the filibuster rules. They’re not talking about abolishing the filibuster, and it won’t be for every issue, but there is actually a team of middle-of-the-road senators who are working with leadership and long-time liberal reformers like Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley to get some changes made. That’s very real progress, albeit small. But if they can restore voting rights early on in the year, there’s at least a fighting chance for Democrats not to lose everything in next year’s midterms.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, is one of the group. He told Politico that while it would be “premature” to share yet because “there’s no handshake deal yet,” there’s cause for optimism. He’s also couching it as something that will potentially help Republicans, which if it does anything to bring Manchin along, fine. “We’re not going to abolish the filibuster,” Kaine said. “Joe Manchin has made [it] very plain we’re not abolishing the filibuster.”
“We’re looking at a number of complaints that Democrats and Republicans have had about the way the place operates to see if we can restore it to operating better and do it in a way that would facilitate passage of voting rights,” he continued. He said they are “analyzing potential rule reforms” by “putting the shoe on the other foot” and asking: “If we’re in the minority, how would we feel about this? Can we live under this? Would this make the Senate work better for either party under a president of either party?” Sure. Because Senate Republicans would consider all of that before they made any big rule changes like getting rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees so they could pack it with Trump’s unqualified picks. Like that. Surely Republicans would spend time considering how that could come back to the bite them if the Democrats took over.
After four efforts to pass voting rights bills have been blockaded by Republicans, Democrats think that quite possibly they might just be able to do something about it now, with the blessing of Manchin and his pal Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Those also in the group are Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT). Tester told Politico that those two are “absolutely” open to potential changes that they’ve been discussing—which they’re still not going to make public, but probably include something around forcing a talking filibuster for elections and voting reforms.
There’s also some talk about trying to speed up the procedures around nominations, which Senate Republicans have been blockading and stalling by the score. They’ve broken tradition and are forcing roll call votes on nominations down to the U.S. attorney level, positions that have customarily been dealt with by much quicker voice votes. “The Republicans have exploited every twist and turn in the rules to try to keep people from getting into the jobs so they can do the work that needs to be done,” Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “It’s obscene.”
Merkley has been pressing for years to fix the Senate, and is now speaking with real urgency about the need to safeguard future elections and to do it quickly, making sure that there is a “clear path laid out” for election officials ahead of the primaries in the states.
“The reality is that it becomes more and more problematic with each passing month and I personally am advocating that it just has to be a top priority when we come back in January,” Merkley said. “Really what we’re talking about is restoring the Senate and the notion that the Senate should actually be able to get a bill to the floor.”
Kaine said that the “White House knows that we’re doing [discussions] and at some point they have to be brought in because this affects their ability to to get things passed.” President Biden has recognized that this moment in history poses the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” but hasn’t endorsed full filibuster reform.
“[The White House] knows we’re having these discussions,” Kaine said. “They’re not yet really weighing in on possibilities, because we haven’t reached consensus yet, but they will be involved once we do.” Let’s just hope it’s not too late.