Senate Democrats have developed a plan to advance voting rights legislation by temporarily evading a GOP filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) detailed the plan in a memo to the Democratic caucus on Wednesday.
The plan will begin in the House, where lawmakers will pass an unrelated bill regarding funding for NASA. The bill will be sent to the Senate as a “message,” which will allow Democrats to open debate on the legislation with only a simple majority, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold required for new bills.
Instead of voting on the NASA bill, Democrats will strip the language from the bill and replace it with language from voting rights bills that Republicans have blocked numerous times over the past year.
While this plan avoids an initial filibuster, final passage of voting rights legislation will still require a confrontation on the Senate rule at some point. Either Republicans will have to allow a vote on the bill without blocking it — a highly unlikely possibility — or Democrats, faced with a GOP filibuster, will have to amend the rule after the bill is blocked.
“To ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us — which we know from past experience will not happen — or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before,” Schumer wrote in his memo.
At that point, “every senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass the legislation to protect our democracy,” Schumer added.
Currently, the specific changes to the filibuster that Schumer intends to propose are unclear, although there are several possible options. Democrats could restore the “talking filibuster,” which would require a senator to speak nonstop in order to block legislation. They could also create a “carve-out” that allows exceptions to the filibuster rule if a bill relates to voting rights. Finally, Democrats could opt to ditch the rule altogether – but although progressive advocates have repeatedly called for the elimination of the filibuster, it’s unlikely that this measure will be considered.
Even members of the Senate Democratic caucus are unsure which path Schumer plans to take.
“I really don’t know what the leader is thinking at this stage. He has not shared that with us,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).
Meanwhile, Democrats have had difficulty negotiating with conservative senators who want to keep the filibuster in place, like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). Shortly before President Joe Biden gave a speech on voting rights and the need to change the filibuster rule, Manchin told a reporter that he’d only support an alteration to the rule if it had broad bipartisan support — a highly unlikely scenario.
Moderates in the Senate Democratic caucus have been negotiating with Manchin on the filibuster for weeks. Recently, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said that Manchin’s inconsistency has been a major obstacle.
“You think you’re just about there. You think you’ve got an agreement on most of the things and it’s settling in. And then you come back the next morning and you’re starting from scratch,” the source said.