Senate Dems push the talking filibuster in "Hail Mary" attempt to save voting rights

Chuck Schumer said he's ready to play hardball

By Jessica Corbett

Published January 19, 2022 4:55AM (EST)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the press following a Democratic caucus meeting on May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Schumer urged his Republican Senate colleagues to support the January 6 commission legislation. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the press following a Democratic caucus meeting on May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Schumer urged his Republican Senate colleagues to support the January 6 commission legislation. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed Tuesday evening that if Republicans continue to obstruct a long-delayed voting rights package, he will move to bring back the talking filibuster for just that legislation.

"Now that they have found a way to open debate, under the current rules, Democrats can and must force a public debate that ends with a majority vote."

Schumer (D-N.Y.), flanked by other top Senate Democrats, announced the plan during a press conference after a caucus meeting that followed a floor debate on the House-approved bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.

The strategy was welcomed by progressives, including Christina Harvey, executive director of the advocacy group Stand Up America.

"Senate Democrats are on the Senate floor right now embracing a rare opportunity to substantively debate voting rights," Harvey said. "But they have an even rarer opportunity to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act at the end of this debate, if they are willing to stand together and do it."

"Now that they have found a way to open debate, under the current rules, Democrats can and must force a public debate that ends with a majority vote after every senator has exhausted their time," she said. "It may take weeks, but if Senate Democrats can find the political courage this moment requires, they have the tools right now to pass voting rights legislation and save our democracy."

Throughout the current congressional session, voting rights legislation has been blocked by Senate Republicans as well as two Democrats—Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—who have so far opposed abolishing or reforming the filibuster.

"The Senate spent an entire year drafting, considering, and debating voting rights legislation," Schumer said during the press conference. "Senate Republicans have spent the same amount of time refusing to negotiate with our members, including Sen. Manchin, or even debate this legislation."

The Democratic leader highlighted that over the past year—in the wake of former President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" about the 2020 election—GOP state legislators have enacted voter suppression laws in key states across the country, sparking demands for Congress to fight back.

"If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed," Schumer declared. "If the Republicans block cloture on the legislation before us, I will put forward a proposal to change the rules to allow for a talking filibuster on this legislation."

"We feel, very simply, on something as important as voting rights, if Senate Republicans are gonna oppose it, they should not be allowed to sit in their office," he added. "They gotta come down on the floor and defend their opposition to voting rights, the wellspring of our democracy."

While Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) all spoke after Schumer, whether the rule change happens will ultimately depend on Manchin and Sinema.

After Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip, suggested the talking filibuster approach to journalists earlier Tuesday, Manchin signaled that he would not support the change.

Politico's Burgess Everett tweeted that "Manchin says he doesn't support a talking filibuster that goes around [the] 60-vote threshold and won't support the nuclear option to change rules," adding that the senator "says he's fine with a primary challenge over this."

According to the reporter, Manchin specifically said: "I've been primaried my entire life. That would not be anything new for me… It's rough and tumble. We're used to that. Bring it on."

Though Schumer refused to indicate whether he would support 2024 primary challenges to Democrats who don't get onboard with filibuster reform, only saying that "I'm not getting into the politics," earlier in the day Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told journalists that he would back such efforts.

"What's at stake is the future of American democracy," said Sanders. "And the fact that all over this country, Republican governors and legislators are moving aggressively to suppress the vote and to impose extreme gerrymandering, among many other things."

"Anybody who believes in American democracy has got to vote to enable us to go forward with 50 votes to suspend the filibuster, at least on this vote," he added.

As Common Dreams reported earlier Tuesday, the progressive advocacy group Indivisible found that 94% of its members in Arizona said they would support primarying Sinema when she is up for reelection in two years if she sinks voting rights legislation.

Indivisible and Stand Up America are among the organizations urging Senate Democrats to hold the Senate floor for "as long as it takes" to pass their voting rights package.

As Megan Hatcher-Mays, Indivisible's director of democracy policy, put it: "We want a full airing of the ways Republicans are undermining our right to vote across the country—on a partisan basis, for the record—and how the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would save our democracy from these attacks."


Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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