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Schumer Suggests Filibuster Reform After GOP Blocks John Lewis Voting Rights Act

Democrats would need their whole caucus, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to agree to change the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer conducts a news conference after the Senate Democrats luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on November 2, 2021.

For the fourth time this year, Republicans have filibustered to block voting rights protections proposed by Democrats — prompting Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to hint that his party might consider changes to the legislative rule.

Republicans blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill named for the late Democratic lawmaker and civil rights activist who spent much of his career advocating for voting rights. The bill would have enabled the federal government to oversee state voting laws in order to prevent racial discrimination during elections, as well as overturned two Supreme Court rulings over the past decade that loosened regulations in the Voting Rights Act.

Prior to this week’s filibuster, Republicans have blocked three other attempts by Democrats to pass voting rights legislation.

Speaking on Wednesday from the Senate floor, Schumer did not directly address the issue of the filibuster. However, he did allude to changing the rule — which many have described as a Jim Crow relic — in order to ensure voting rights reforms could pass.

“Just because Republicans will not join us doesn’t mean Democrats will stop fighting,” Schumer said. “This is too important. We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward, even if it means going it alone.”

Schumer added that he and Democrats should “explore whatever paths we have to restore the Senate so it does what the framers intended — debate, deliberate, compromise and vote.”

Also on Wednesday, Schumer met with Democratic Senate caucus members to “strategize” about having “family discussions” within the party to “restore the Senate” when it comes to passing voting rights, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke to The Hill.

This isn’t the first time that Schumer has alluded to reforming the Senate rule. In September, when Republicans threatened to filibuster the Freedom to Vote Act (a watered-down version of the more expansive For the People Act), Schumer warned that he and his party would do whatever was necessary to pass a voting rights bill.

“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 at the time.

Republicans filibustered the bill anyway, and no immediate action from Schumer followed.

While many progressives would welcome changes to the filibuster or even the elimination of the practice altogether, Schumer’s threats to reform the filibuster ring somewhat empty, considering the change would require the support of all 50 Democrats in the Senate. Many conservative Democrats have said they oppose filibuster abolition or reform — including one of the filibuster’s most vehement defenders, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).

In an op-ed he wrote in April, Manchin said there was “no circumstance” in which he would support weakening the filibuster. Instead, he said, lawmakers should try to reach agreements across the political aisle — despite zero indication from Republicans that they are willing to compromise on voting rights or any other Democratic proposals.

“Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs,” Manchin said.

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