In a push to protect voting rights, President Joe Biden is planning to pressure conservative Democrats in the Senate to support filibuster reform in order to pass voting rights legislation.
According to three people briefed on the situation, per Rolling Stone, Biden has told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) that he will speak to holdouts in the Senate, hoping to carve out a filibuster exception for voting rights.
“Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls,” Biden reportedly told Senator Schumer.
The White House has been campaigning for voting rights legislation to stem the Republican-led, conspiracy-theory-laden tide of voter suppression laws sweeping the country. “The president and vice president have been very clear that this is a crucial priority and senior White House staff across many departments are constantly working on it,” a White House official told Rolling Stone.
Up until now, Biden has not supported efforts to reform or eliminate the filibuster, which are Democrats’ only options to pass legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or the For the People Act.
In fact, Biden has opposed filibuster abolition for months, despite the fact that it stands in the way of nearly his entire agenda. He said in July that ending the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos,” leading to gridlock.
But the Senate is already gridlocked. It has taken months for the legislature to negotiate the infrastructure bill, a previously bipartisan proposal that’s now been split into two highly politicized bills that have fractured support within Biden’s own party.
Biden’s delay in supporting filibuster reform has frustrated Democrats and progressives alike. Even moderate Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) have been pushing for a filibuster exception when it comes to voting rights, illustrating the urgency felt within much of the Democratic Party to pass such legislation.
The voter suppression situation in particular is increasingly dire. As of July, 18 states have passed 30 laws to restrict the right to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Even more voter suppression bills have passed since then, with Texas Republicans jamming through their voter suppression package earlier this month, even after Democrats desperately pulled out all stops to block it.
With much of the Democratic party supporting filibuster abolition or reform, Democrats hope Biden’s support will, at the very least, help unite the party in recognizing the importance of passing voting rights legislation.
“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Maryland), an original co-author of the For the People Act, told Rolling Stone. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”
Biden is likely to face resistance from the filibuster holdouts, however. Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) have been firm in their opposition to any filibuster reform, even though the controversial Senate rule is blocking much of the Democratic agenda — and Republicans could very easily retake the majority in Congress in 2022 without adequate checks on the rampant voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering occurring at the state level.
Though Sinema and Manchin are the most vocal opponents of filibuster abolition or reform, their views reflect those of a small group of Democratic senators. And with conservative Democrats in both chambers of Congress ready to block Biden’s agenda, the president has his work cut out for him.