Senate Democrats are once again looking to change or abolish the filibuster — a procedure that requires most big pieces of legislation to obtain at least 60 votes in the chamber — after Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law Tuesday restricting voting rights.
“It’s pretty simple: unless we get rid of the filibuster, we’re going to sit around admiring a lot of problems and sending a lot of tweets. Instead, we should get something done,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted on Tuesday morning.
In addition to their stalled efforts to expand voting rights at the federal level, congressional Democrats are heading into a fall session featuring a slew of major liberal priorities.
Klobuchar is part of a group of Democratic senators who have been in talks all year about how to reach agreement on a voting rights bill that would draw support from all 50 Democrats and potentially some Republicans. She has also been outspoken in calling for an end to the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, not just to pass voting rights laws but also to counter laws like the one in Texas that recently all but eliminated access to legal abortions.
But two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona — have resolutely refused all year to support eliminating the filibuster, arguing that it is an important part of protecting the rights of the minority party. Other Democrats have been less vocal about protecting the filibuster but worry about weakening it, mindful that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Republicans could win back the Senate in next year’s midterms.
As Congress prepares to return next week to a packed schedule, some voting rights advocates are hopeful that an updated voting proposal could soon be introduced in the Senate, initiating another showdown on the filibuster. “They are closing in on a finalized bill. … They may even have it at this point,” one activist with strong ties to Capitol Hill said on condition he not be identified.
A Klobuchar spokeswoman declined to comment, and a Manchin spokesman did not return a request for comment. Klobuchar and Manchin have been negotiating on voting rights for months, along with Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
However, dramatic actions by the Republican state Legislature and governor in Texas have reignited calls for the filibuster to be at least tweaked, if not abolished outright.
Abbott signed a law Tuesday that would make it harder to vote by mail, eliminated drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, and created several ways in which — according to critics of the bill — poll workers could be harassed or threatened by partisan poll watchers or politicians. Abbott claimed the bill made it easier to vote, pointing to the addition of one hour during early voting on weekdays.
Last week, Abbott signed another piece of legislation that effectively banned most abortions beyond six weeks of gestation.
Klobuchar, in a Sunday morning CNN interview, said that “my solution for voting rights and so many other things — including climate change, where one side of the country is in flames, the other side of the country is flooded, with people dying submerged in their cars — I believe we should abolish the filibuster.”
And on Tuesday morning, Klobuchar said in a statement that she was “working closely with my Senate colleagues to build consensus on a voting rights bill that will be at the top of our agenda this month.”
Progressive groups also used the Texas laws to renew calls for filibuster reform.
“This unmitigated assault on our freedom to vote must be countered by the U.S. Senate with the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The Senate must pass these bills quickly and not allow procedure to stand in the way of protecting the freedom to vote from dangerous laws like the one just signed in Texas,” Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, said in a statement.
Merkley echoed this call on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that GOP leader McConnell “has already gotten rid of the filibuster for his priorities: corporate power and tax cuts for the rich.”
“It's time Democrats show the same commitment to pass legislation on abortion rights, voting rights, and climate change,” Merkley said in a tweet.
The two parties have both chipped away at the filibuster over the last decade. When Republicans held the Senate majority, McConnell presided over the abolishing of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Before that, in 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did away with the filibuster for other presidential nominations. And during his term in office, President Donald Trump repeatedly implored McConnell to scrap the filibuster entirely –– a move broadly rejected by Democrats and Republicans alike in 2017.
Democrats are alarmed by moves in several Republican-controlled state legislatures to reduce access to voting and also to give local politicians more ability to meddle with election results after all the votes have been cast.
In June, Manchin and Sinema both voted for a voting rights bill that all 50 Senate Democrats supported, which was then blocked by all 50 Republicans. The bill would have made it easier for people to vote by mandating 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, allowing for same-day voter registration and unlimited ballot collection, enacting automatic registration for federal elections and lowering identification requirements.
It would also have banned the practice of partisan gerrymandering, in which state legislatures redraw congressional districts in irregular shapes that are designed to give their party an advantage.
And in late August, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill that would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act that have been hollowed out by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision and the 2021 Brnovich v. DNC ruling.
Since then, Democrats have continued to tinker with a piece of legislation that could again garner support from all 50 Senate Democrats, and there has been discussion of including some voter ID measures that would satisfy the criteria outlined by Manchin in a June memo.
If Senate Democrats can get agreement on another voting bill and bring it to a vote that is again blocked by Republicans, then the discussion over the filibuster would begin, the activist with ties to the Senate told Yahoo News.
Manchin has said he would be open to moving to a “talking filibuster.” This would require a senator to sustain a filibuster by maintaining a physical presence on the Senate floor. Currently, any senator can block any legislation by simply informing the Senate that they wish to filibuster.
Manchin has also indicated he would consider lowering the vote threshold from 60 to 55 to pass legislation, according to reports of a call he conducted with outside groups in July.
Sinema has let Manchin take the lead on the issue, and has issued a series of condemnations of abolishing the filibuster. In response, outside groups have ramped up pressure campaigns on Sinema and Manchin to change the filibuster rule.
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