Is the filibuster really going to be killed for voting rights?
The pressure is finally building in a way we haven't yet seen. The question is whether it will be enough.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced today in a letter to colleagues that if Republicans don’t allow a vote on voting rights by January 17th, Martin Luther King Day, he will move to a simple majority vote to change rules around the filibuster.
Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process. and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm.
We’ve heard this before, and Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have given no indication they’ll budge on the issue.
But momentum is building as the January 6th anniversary approaches. And the pressure, while progressives have been sounding the alarm for months, hasn’t been this intense from establishment Democrats and institutions. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a centrist Democrat whose been tepid on the idea of reforming the filibuster, announced in mid-December that he supports a carve-out to the filibuster for voting rights.
The Washington Post editorial board made the case in December for reform of the filibuster as voting rights are imperiled. And The New York Times editorial board, in an editorial headlined, “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” declared “the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy” and compared the Republican Party to “authoritarian movements” around the world. The Times urged Democrats to act:
Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.
In fact, President Biden went from warning just last July that ending the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos” to emphatically stating in December, "If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster.”
All of this momentum occurred, I must point out, while long-time African-American civil rights activist and SiriusXM radio host Joe Madison has been on a hunger strike, getting responses from politicians, the White House and much of the media, in a testament to how people are putting their bodies on the line for this sacred right to vote. Over 60 groups have now urged the Senate to reform the filibuster for voting rights.
But there’s still the problem of Manchin and Sinema. Both, however, support the voting rights legislation and Manchin helped write the latest package, vowing to get Republicans aboard. There have been no new takers among GOP senators — making Manchin look idiotic and laying it at his feet — and the GOP is determined to continue filibustering. So talks are underway among Democratic senators with these two hold-outs on at least supporting a carve-out to the filibuster for voting rights. The idea is that if Manchin caves Sinema won’t be the last one standing.
Those are big ifs, but a positive sign that things might be changing is the increased freakout of the GOP. Mitt Romney thundered against ending the filibuster in an editorial late last year, and Mitch McConnell has increasingly betrayed his fears in recent weeks.
And just today Senator Mike Lee of Utah lost it completely, hyperventilating that Schumer’s plan is “absurd and dangerous” and “must be stopped.” All the more reason to continue full speed ahead.