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President to Meet With Senate Democrats to Craft Filibuster Plan

January 13, 2022 by Dan McCue
President to Meet With Senate Democrats to Craft Filibuster Plan
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will travel to Capitol Hill Thursday to begin crafting a plan to pass a pair of voting rights bills that have been stalled in the Senate for months.

A major focus of Biden’s lunchtime visit with Senate Democrats will be whether and how to change the chamber’s long-standing filibuster rules so that bills can advance on a simple majority vote instead of the usual 60-vote threshold.

“I wouldn’t want to delude anybody into thinking this is easy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Wednesday.

“We’re trying to come to a place where 50 senators can support … a change in the rules, so we can get the votes to pass these bills into law,” the New York Democrat said.

As reported by The Well News on Tuesday, Senate Republicans are pushing back ferociously at the idea that Democrats would “nuke” the filibuster to pass voting legislation GOP lawmakers consider anathema.

But many Democrats are also said to be more than a little woozy about the prospect. Most want to pass the voting rights bills, but fear the repercussions of bending or breaking the filibuster rule months before a midterm election after which they may well be in the minority.

Majority Leader Schumer plans to force a vote on the issue by Monday, which also happens to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now that the president is on board, the momentum toward that goal has quickened considerably.

“Sadly, the U.S. Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Biden told an audience in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday. 

“It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate. But as an institutionalist, I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” he said.

“Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail,” the president said. “And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”

The speech inspired an angry response from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who accused the president of saying one thing but doing another.

“Twelve months ago, a newly-inaugurated President Biden stood on the West Front of the Capitol and said, ‘My whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation.’ Yesterday, the same man delivered a deliberately divisive speech that was designed to pull our country farther apart,” McConnell said.

“Twelve months ago, this president said we should ‘see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors.’ Yesterday, he called millions of Americans his domestic ‘enemies,’” he continued.

“Twelve months ago, this president said that ‘disagreement must not lead to disunion.’ But, yesterday, he invoked the bloody disunion of the Civil War to demonize Americans who disagree with him. He compared a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors,” the Republican leader said.

“How profoundly unpresidential,” he added. “I have known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at that podium yesterday.”

According to McConnell, many of the newly passed state voting laws that inspired congressional Democrats to draft their legislation contain “almost identical language” on things like voter accessibility.

“The president implied things like widely popular voter ID laws are ‘totalitarian’ on the same day Washington, D.C.’s, Democratic mayor told citizens to bring both a photo ID and a vaccine card anytime they leave their house,” he continued.

“The sitting president of the United States of America compared American states to ‘totalitarian states.’ He said our country will be an ‘autocracy’ if he does not get his way,” McConnell said. “The world saw our sitting commander in chief propagandize against his own country to a degree that would have made Pravda blush.

“This institution was constructed as a firewall against exactly this kind of rage and false hysteria. It falls to the Senate to put America on a better track. It falls to us,” the GOP leader said Wednesday.

“So, this institution cannot give in to dishonorable tactics. We cannot surrender to recklessness. We have to stand up, stand strong, protect the Senate and defend our country,” he concluded.

The Democrats reportedly are still considering a range of options for dealing with the filibuster. One would be to simply amend it, carving out certain types of issues, like the approval of judges or policy measures like the elections bill.

Another would be to impose a talking filibuster, which would require a filibuster member or members to hold the floor for as long as they could.

On Tuesday night and again on Wednesday, key senators huddled with holdouts in the party, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, in hopes of somehow achieving a united front on the issue. 

Attendees at these meetings included Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Angus King of Maine.

But no agreement has been reached, either with them or a handful of other Democrats, like Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who continue to maintain they’re undecided on the issue.

Whichever choice they make, the vote on the rule — and the votes on the election bills that follow — will no doubt be fraught with drama.

Independent Sen. King told reporters Tuesday he supports Senate Democrats who want to change filibuster rules to pass voting rights bills.

“I believe the vote taken this week is the most important vote that I will ever take in my life, not because of any issue but because of the structure of democracy itself,” he said.

And it also seems clear now that Democrats are hoping to convince at least some Republicans to break with their party.

Among the names being bandied about as “possibles” are Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, all of whom voted to convict former President Donald Trump at his 2nd impeachment trial.

Romney also voted to convict Trump at his first impeachment trial, and Murkowski was the only Republican who voted to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to a vote last fall. 

So far, at least, the Democrats don’t appear to be making any inroads.

On Wednesday, Murkowski took to the floor of the Senate to speak about the importance of protecting the rights of the minority in the chamber and what she sees as the consequences of weakening the filibuster.

“I understand what it takes to work across the aisle to bring good policy into law,” Murkowski said. “And one of the things I can tell you from firsthand experience is that it’s hard. It is hard work to bring people together, particularly on some of these challenging and difficult issues that we have. 

“When the problems are hard, that means, usually, the solutions are equally hard. But that’s our job as legislators, to bring sides together to find that common ground.

“I will vote against any motion to weaken the filibuster or create carve-outs within it,” she said. “I believe that weakening the current 60-vote threshold would be a major mistake, a damaging mistake, especially in light of the already deep divisions that we have within our country today.

“Gutting the legislative filibuster is not going to do anything to bring both sides together. It will not help bring the parties together. It will, unfortunately, just serve to push them further apart, to split us further apart,” Murkowski continued.

“Back in 2017, I signed a letter along with 60 other members of this chamber. There were 28 Republicans, 32 Democrats, one Independent, and we came together as a pretty representative group of lawmakers and urged the Republican and Democratic leaders to preserve the 60-vote threshold for legislation,” she said.

“As Republicans in the majority, we were urged mightily by former President Trump to get rid of the filibuster. I was one that said, ‘No, we should not do that.’ And that’s why my advice to the majority today is to be careful. Because this may help advance the immediate legislative agenda. This could help you advance your immediate agenda, but the long-term effects might look a lot different.

“The 60-vote threshold for legislation requires consensus to be part of our legislative strategy. Changing it to 50 votes, to serve the narrowest possible majority, will lose that essential benefit and have lasting consequences for the Senate and for the people we serve.  

“We can do better than this. We just have to work. Neither side will get everything it wants out of that, but I absolutely believe our country will be better served if we have a bipartisan path, working together,” Murkowski concluded.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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