Schumer Hints at Filibuster Workaround If Republicans Stonewall Voting Rights

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) warned Republicans on Tuesday that if they unite against an upcoming voting rights bill and reject its passage, he and the chamber will explore a workaround to the filibuster to pass the bill through a simple majority.

“We’re going to take action to make sure we protect our democracy and fight against the disease of voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and election subversion that is metastasizing at the state level,” Schumer said, per Reuters.

Earlier this month, a group of Democratic senators released the Freedom to Vote Act, a modified version of the For the People Act, which the House passed in March. Though the new voting rights bill is weaker in some ways than the For the People Act, the compromise bill still contains many of the pillars of the For the People Act — and crucially, has the support of conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin has been trying to whip up at least 10 Republican votes for the bill so that it can pass under the 60-vote filibuster rule. But it’s incredibly unlikely that any Republicans would be swayed to support voting rights legislation that would allow more people to vote, which they believe puts them at a disadvantage.

Democrats and progressives have spent the past few months pushing for filibuster reform or abolition. Filibuster abolitionists have said that the arcane rule is obstructing a wide swath of Democratic priorities; reformists have focused on the voting rights bill, arguing that voting rights are important enough to carve out an exception for.

The urgency of the matter has pushed President Joe Biden to support filibuster reform for voting rights — and Biden has reportedly been talking with Schumer to coordinate a strategy to align Democrats with the cause.

Biden has previously held out on supporting filibuster reform, saying in July that Republicans “know better” than to pare down voting rights across the country. The same month, the White House even suggested that Democrats could “out-organize” voter suppression — a suggestion that was widely panned by progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).

The fight over the filibuster has underscored every fight in the Senate over the last nine months. Faced with several existential issues like the encroaching fascism of the Republican party and the rapidly worsening climate crisis, Democrats have a small window of opportunity to pass vital legislation before the 2022 midterms, when early projections predict that Republicans could retake the majority in the House and potentially the Senate.

However, the voting rights legislation is particularly timely because of the Republican state-level campaign to restrict access to the ballot across the country. Since the beginning of this year, several Republican-governed states have collectively passed 30 laws that make it harder to vote, according to a July report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Since then, states like Texas have passed more such restrictive laws, many of them would disproportionately make it harder for Black and Brown communities to cast a ballot. These voter suppression laws restrict mail-in and early voting in particular, two things that Donald Trump targeted as president.

Without legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act, Democrats could be permanently facing uphill battles in elections in many states. Voting rights advocates say passing sweeping voting rights legislation is crucial for saving democracy in the U.S, and to ensuring that Republicans can’t rig every election going forward and passing other laws to disenfranchise the will of voters when they lose elections.