“Different people have different ideas about what kind of reform there should be,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We’re trying to come to a consensus.”
With the Senate evenly split, the Democrats need all 50 of their faction members to support any changes along the party lines, a process known as “nuclear”. The matter should come to a head this week – but not as dramatically as the term “nuclear power” suggests.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to leave by Monday, the holiday in honor of the birthday of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will stand and vote on changes to the Chamber’s rules if Republicans again block Democratic elections Reform Bill (which they plan to do).
Should Schumer pull through, the party might get Manchin’s vote for a small reform. If Manchin and Sinema could be persuaded to vote along the party lines for a rule change that would allow the electoral law to be passed, that small reform would look historically massive in the blink of an eye.
However, that’s a big if. Three of Manchin’s coworkers in caucus, Sens. Tim Kaine from Virginia, Jon Tester from Montana, and Angus King from Maine met with Manchin to try to influence him. But until the party has banded together on a single proposal or has proposals finalized, it is difficult to know what is being pushed Manchin and Sinema to vote yes.
Here are some of the options the Democrats are discussing:
The talking filibuster
Under current Senate rules, senators need 60 votes to end the debate on most bills. (The final passage still requires a simple majority, but the Senators must vote first to end the debate). A return to the so-called “speaking filibuster,” which the Chamber essentially dropped in the 1970s, requires a minority party senator to speak for as long as he wishes to block a bill. As long as a senator speaks, the debate cannot end.
Yes, this is a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ”-style filibuster for those who watched the classic 1939 Jimmy Stewart film.
Under a speaking filibuster, 60 senators can vote at any time to end the debate. If this does not happen, the debate will continue until the minority party vacates a position in plenary – at which point the majority party can move on to the final adoption of the bill, with only a simple majority required.
Republicans argue that going to a speaking filibuster would violate the rights of the minority.
“It is still not really in keeping with the filibuster’s recent tradition of protecting minority rights. It just lengthens the process, “said Senator Kevin Cramer (RN.D.).
Pave the way for debate
Current Senate rules require 60 votes to even begin debating a bill that would allow a minority of Senators to prevent legislation from considering. Democrats are considering a proposal that would reduce the number of votes required to start the debate from 60 to 50, a move that could potentially be combined with the talking filibuster.
Schumer has repeatedly said that the Senate should hold a plenary debate on electoral reform legislation, a signal that this move could be a Democratic move.
According to one version of this proposal, Democrats would combine their amendment with a guarantee that both sides would receive an equal number of important or relevant amendments once the debate began. That doesn’t mean that changes are limited; Proponents of easing the start of the debate say that guaranteeing a certain number of amendments to both sides would ease the blow to the minority.
But the GOP will definitely see the blow as huge.
Exercise of voting rights
The Democrats have also discussed the possibility of a so-called “carveout” from the filibuster for voting rights and electoral reform. Under this idea, the Democrats would amend the Senate rules to allow for a one-time exception to the passing of the party’s overriding law with a simple majority threshold.
But this is perhaps the least likely option for Democrats; Manchin and Sinema have both stated that they do not support a spin-off.
The Democrats are also considering changing the number of Senators required to end a filibuster. The current rules require 60 senators regardless of how many actually vote that day, but some Democrats want to change that number to three-fifths of the senators actually present to vote.
In other words, if 80 senators show up for a given vote, the Senate only needs 48 members instead of 60 to end a filibuster.
Another option that the Democrats are discussing would be for the minority party to provide 41 votes to keep making filibusters. This pitch would automatically end the debate if 41 members of the minority did not appear on the floor.
Until Senate Democrats have decided which of their options to pursue, it is difficult, even for members of the caucus, to gauge how close they are to their support. And minor rule changes do not necessarily guarantee that the elections and the voting rights law will be passed. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Who has long advocated rule changes, makes his arguments in private presentations to his colleagues.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) Said this week will be crucial for the party to choose its course, adding that he had met with his staff the Monday before to ask, “What exactly are voting on we off? What is the language, what is the proposal? “
To make rule changes once they have settled on some, Democrats would have to vote along the party lines to enact them. This is where the word “nuclear” comes in – although it refers to the political and interpersonal effects of change, not the level of fireworks on the ground. In fact, the actual process is inconspicuous.
And this is how it works: After a failed vote, the majority leader draws up so-called rules of procedure and essentially says that a rule of the Senate is being violated. The Senator, sitting in the chair, comments on this point of the Rules of Procedure and cites the applicable rules. Then the majority leader can appeal to the chairman to change the rules of procedure of the chamber, and the senate votes on this motion with a simple majority, which is necessary for the passage.
The Senate went nuclear for the first time in 2013 when then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Changed the rules to allow the Senate to approve executive and judicial candidates, with the exception of the Supreme Court, by simple majority.
Mitch McConnell, the majority leader at the time, followed the nuclear war in 2017 so that Supreme Court candidates could be approved by simple majority. He pushed through another rule change along the party lines in 2019, reducing the debate time required to approve certain non-cabinet-level candidates.
But regardless of the rule change the Democrats vote for, it won’t be easy to convince Manchin and Sinema to go nuclear. Manchin has voted against any rule change along the party line since joining the Senate in 2010.