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House Democrats Push for Voting Rights Exception to Filibuster

Democrats are exhausting every avenue to get voting rights passed, but key figures like the president are holding out.

House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn speaks at a hearing on September 1, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

House leaders led by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) are launching a campaign to urge the Senate and President Joe Biden to support carving out an exception to the filibuster rule in order to pass legislation protecting voting rights and other measures related to the Constitution.

As Republicans in state legislatures are slowly chipping away at voting rights across the country, many Democrats and progressives have grown frustrated that the Senate filibuster and its 60-vote rule to advance legislation has been holding up nearly the entirety of the Democratic agenda.

The For the People Act, the first bill filed this session in the House and the Senate, is one of the top priorities for the party, and Democrats are desperately searching for any avenue to get filibuster holdouts on board to pass the legislation. The latest push spearheaded by Clyburn, notably, wouldn’t get rid of the filibuster completely, but would be able to help Democrats on this one issue.

Sources familiar with the matter told The Guardian that Clyburn’s effort is backed by the rest of House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California). Several Democratic senators, most vocally Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), are still adamantly against abolishing the filibuster. This version of filibuster reform, then, is considered by leadership to be the only way to advance the issue.

Clyburn was chosen to lead the effort, sources said, because of his close personal relationship with the president. Indeed, Politico reports that Clyburn is targeting Biden and various other people in the White House like Vice President Kamala Harris with his push.

If they don’t make a rule-changing push to pass voting rights, “Democrats can kiss the majority goodbye,” Clyburn told Politico. He also said that the president should call Manchin to urge him to support the filibuster reform proposal.

Biden hasn’t come out in support of filibuster abolition, much to the chagrin of progressives and Democrats who are eager to pass vital measures on climate, labor, and more. In March, he said he was in favor of filibuster reform, but Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated on Monday that Biden wouldn’t be weighing in on Clyburn’s proposal.

The holdout over reforming or getting rid of the filibuster has been a subject of increasing frustration for Democratic and progressive lawmakers, who warn of dire consequences if they aren’t able to pass their agenda.

The president is set to speak on voting rights on Tuesday as part of the White House’s push to promote the subject. He is expected to tie Republicans’ sweeping efforts to suppress voting to Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” about nonexistent election fraud. Biden will also make “the moral case” for supporting voting rights, Psaki said Monday, and emphasize the importance of combating Republican proposals like allowing partisan efforts more control over election results.

But without filibuster reform, as many political commentators have pointed out time and again, it will be impossible for Democrats to implement sweeping voting rights legislation. After all, it’s not just Republican lawmakers at the state level who are opposing voting access; the alarming ideology has engulfed the entire party, top to bottom.

Meanwhile, Democratic state representatives have grown increasingly desperate for help from Washington in blocking state-level voter suppression legislation.

In a bold move, Texas Democrats have fled the state to block Republicans’ voter suppression measure there. They’ve headed to D.C., instead, to plead with Democrats there to pass legislation like the For the People Act to block the GOP’s sweeping and alarming voting restrictions measures once and for all.

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