Democrats press for talking filibuster for voting rights – with or without Manchin and Sinema

‘I just don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule,’ says West Virginia senator

Eric Garcia
Wednesday 19 January 2022 20:21
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Kyrsten Sinema refuses to back changes to filibuster

Senate Democrats plan to move forward with their plan to enact a talking filibuster to pass voting rights despite the fact conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema continue to oppose changes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that if Republicans block cloture on the voting rights legislation, he would put forward a proposal to change the rules to allow for a talking filibuster on the legislation.

It was the latest twist in an ongoing battle over Senate rules – and whether the filibuster, which allows the minority party to block legislation favoured by the majority, should be overridden to pass voting rights legislation seen as vital by Democrats but opposed by Republicans.

The issue was highlighted on Monday as the US marked Martin Luther King Jr Day, with members of the civil rights hero’s family and senior Democrats stressing the importance of protecting African Americans’ right to vote.

“Historically, changes to the Senate rules have been necessary to adapt to changed circumstances,” Mr Schumer said, referencing Mr Manchin’s predecessor, the late Robert Byrd, the longest-serving Senator in US history. “To address voting rights in a timely fashion, there’s an opportunity to do exactly that, to change the Senate rules to promote a public debate.”

But Mr Manchin told reporters that while he supports a talking filibuster, there has never been a simple majority vote to end debate.

“I just don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule,” Mr Manchin said. “I’ve been looking for every precedent I can and every carve out. The bottom line is everything that we’ve done.”

Plenty of Democrats have cited how the Senate used a carve-out to raise the debt limit last year, but Mr Manchin said that was done through the rules of the upper chamber.

“We’ve done everything along the lines with the rules,” Mr Manchin said. “The only thing we have is the filibuster and think if you have a situation where right now where you have the executive branch of government, Congress – the House and the Senate – they’re all the same and basically, there’s no check and balance because basically, we just sweep right through.”

Mr Manchin warned that the same thing could happen if Republicans come into power.

Many people have attempted to lobby Mr Manchin on voting rights. In a letter, multiple sports legends such as former West Virginia University player Jerry West – whose silhouette was used for the NBA’s logo – as well as Houston Oilers player and WVU athletics director Oliver Luck; Buffalo Bills player and WVU alumnus Darryl Talley; former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban sent a letter urging Mr Manchin to the Freedom to Vote Act.

The letter stressed the need for elections open to all Americans and impartial conduct when it comes to election administration.

“These principles are now under intentional and unprecedented challenge,” he said. “Motivated by the unanticipated outcomes of recent close elections conducted with integrity, these state laws seek to secure partisan advantage by eliminating reliable practices with proven safeguards and substituting practices ripe for manipulation.”

At the same time, CNN reported that Mr Saban, who has known Mr Manchin since childhood, said in a footnote that he did not support eliminating the filibuster.

“They’re all straight on, they all want the right to vote, and Nick Saban at the bottom of his letter, which they didn’t put, Paul Tagliabue did not put what Nick Saban wrote at the bottom, his footnote,” he said. “He supports the filibuster.”

Sen Bernie Sanders, who for years supported keeping the filibuster, told The Independent there were risks to keeping the filibuster.

“What’s at stake is the future of American democracy,” Mr Sanders said. “Anybody who believes in American democracy has got vote to enable us go forward with 50 votes to suspend the filibuster at least on this vote.”

The move comes after Ms Sinema gave a speech last week on the Senate floor defending the 60-vote threshold, saying getting rid of it would be divisive.

President Joe Biden’s numbers have dropped precipitously with Black voters, a Quinnipiac University Poll showing his support down from 78 per cent in April to 57 per cent in January. The lack of progress on voting rights is compounded by negotiations on police reform failing last year despite the police murder of George Floyd.

“They helped us reach a 50-50 Senate, which is extremely difficult to operate in,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin told The Independent. “I’m trying my best on so many issues like policing and voting. We’ve been stopped by the fact that we only have 50 votes.”

When asked about Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema’s opposition, he said, “It’s coming to a head tomorrow.”

Sen Cory Booker of New Jersey, whose negotiations with Republican Sen Tim Scott of South Carolina failed to reach a deal, explained that Black voters understood the difficulty.

“Black voters know nothing worthwhile is easy, we had to fight and work hard for every accomplishment that has advanced equality and justice in this country,” he said. “And I don’t think that Black voters are under the illusion that this would be easy. We do not have a filibuster-proof majority, so this is going to take a lot of work.”

In the meantime, Mr Booker said Democrats had done things to address the needs of Black Americans like removing lead pipes and passing the child tax credit.

Though the child tax credit expired at the end of last month largely because of Mr Manchin’s objections.

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