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Filibuster “Conversation” to Happen If GOP Blocks Voting Rights Bill, Psaki Says

Republicans are poised to block a procedural vote on Tuesday that would begin formal debate on the For the People Act.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing at the White House on June 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Responding to questions about an upcoming vote on voting rights and election reforms in the Senate, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested on Monday that Democratic lawmakers may reexamine rules on the Senate filibuster if Republicans block any bill from even being considered or debated upon this week.

“As it relates to the filibuster, I don’t think you have to take it from us, that would be Congress moving forward — or making a decision,” Psaki said.

An unsuccessful vote to begin debating a voting rights bill, she added, will likely “prompt a new conversation about the path forward.”

“And we’ll see where that goes,” Psaki said.

The ambiguous message from Psaki is that the White House is not taking a formal stance on whether the filibuster should remain, be changed, or be thrown out completely, but that Democrats within that legislative chamber need to decide what to do. Democrats are frustrated by the fact that a slew of their legislative priorities — including the For the People Act, a bill that would expand voting rights and reform a number of election rules — are likely to be blocked by filibusters from Republicans.

The Senate is set to vote on Tuesday over starting a debate on the For the People Act, as well as amendments to that bill that may draw support from centrists like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). Although Manchin has voiced opposition to the bill, he has also said he likes certain aspects of it, and offered a compromise version this week that would include reforms, such as banning partisan gerrymandering in the states, requiring at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections throughout the U.S., and tightening ethics and campaign finance rules.

Progressives who have pushed for the For the People Act appeared open to those changes Manchin said he wanted to see.

“What Senator Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible, no matter your geography,” said Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia candidate for governor and voting rights advocate.

The vote set to happen on Tuesday is a procedural one, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted.

“It’s not a vote on any particular policy,” he said. “It’s not a vote on this bill or that bill. It’s a vote on whether the Senate should simply debate the issue about voting rights, the crucial issue of voting rights in this country.”

But that procedural hurdle seems doomed to fail, as no member of the Republican Senate caucus appears open to these reforms, or receptive to the compromise version being offered by Manchin. The GOP is expected to block the procedural vote using the filibuster.

The 50-50 split within the Senate chamber between the two parties means that at least 10 Republicans would have to vote in favor of cloture (the formal ending of a filibuster) in order to allow any version of an elections reform bill to be considered.

Although Manchin and a handful of other centrist Democrats in the Senate oppose doing so, many lawmakers have called for changes to the filibuster rule or tossing out the rule entirely in order to pass much of the legislation that the American people voted in favor of in the November elections. Indeed, most Americans themselves seem open to amending or ending the filibuster rule, as a Vox/Data for Progress poll in March demonstrated.

Within that survey, 52 percent of respondents said that they would support changes to the filibuster if it meant that the For the People Act would get passed. Just 37 percent of those taking part in the poll said they’d oppose changing rules for that purpose.

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