The House passed a voting rights bill on Thursday and sent it to the Senate as part of a procedural gambit to allow Chuck Schumer to bypass a Republican fillibuster in order to start debate on the legislation.
The House passed the measure 220-203 party-line vote.
The move buys time as Schumer and other Democratic leaders try to persuade Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to join them in changing Senate rules to kill the filibuster on the voting legislation.
The pressure campaign on the two is on: President Joe Biden heads to Capitol Hill in the afternoon to meet with Democrats in person, Vice President Kamala Harris called them out in an interview on NBC News, and Barack Obama wrote an op-ed in USA Today, calling the filibuster a tool to ‘prop up Jim Crow.’
Schumer’s gamble may not pay off as he ultimately need 10 GOP senators in his corner to bring the bill up for final passage, which requires 60 votes.
Republicans are united in their opposition, arguing elections should be run on the state level instead of on a national one.
The House passed a voting rights bill on Thursday and sent it to the Senate
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is plotting a procedural gambit to bypass Republican opposition to start debate on voting legislation
President Biden will go to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with Democrats where he will try to persuade Senator Joe Manchin to back killing the filibuster
Schumer, in a memo to lawmakers on Wednesday, outlined his plan to get voting legislation signed into law.
To manuever around Senate Republican opposition, the House brought up an unrelated NASA bill. In place of the NASA language, the House swapped in the combined text of the two voting bills being held up in the Senate: the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights bill.
After it passed the Democratic-controlled chamber, Speaker Nancy Pelosi shipped it to the Senate as a ‘message’ from the House.
Because it will be categorized as a ‘message between the houses,’ Schumer can skip the 60-vote threshold needed to start debate, allowing him to bypass Republicans’ vow to filibuster.
That will allow debate to begin on the legislation.
‘Then the Senate will finally hold a debate on voting rights legislation for the first time in this Congress, and every Senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass this legislation to protect our democracy,’ Schumer said on the Senate floor on Thursday.
However, it doesn’t guarantee the legislation will get passed. When debate on the bill concludes, Schumer will still need 60 votes to file cloture to end debate on the bill – that means he needs 10 GOP senators on board.
Republicans can use their filibuster power then to stop the legislation its tracks.
At that point, Schumer will have to decide whether to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ – which is to change the Senate rules to have the bill proceed with a simple majority instead of 60 votes.
If he goes nuclear, that is when he needs all 50 Democrats to support it in the evenly-divided Senate. Harris would act as the tie breaker.
He has indicated that is what he will do.
‘Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass anything, we will also need 10 Republicans to join us ultimately on cloture,’ Schumer said on Thursday.
‘If they don’t, we will be left with no choice but to consider changes to Senate rules so we can move forward, and changing Senate rules has been done many times before in this chamber. This is not the first, second or third time that this is happening,’ he added. ‘All of us must make a choice about whether or not we will do our part to preserve our democratic republic in this day and age.’
Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose efforts to kill the filibuster and there is a heavy lobbying campaign by Democratic leaders and their Senate colleagues to get them on board
Biden’s voting rights push: What’s in the John Lewis Act and the Freedom to Vote Act
The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act together would make Election Day a holiday, expand access to mail-in voting and strengthen U.S. Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.
Republicans oppose federal laws on voting, arguing elections should be run on a state level. Democrats are pushing the bills to combat a slew of new state laws in GOP-controlled states that they claim hurt voting rights access, particularly among people of color, and would help nullify election results.
The two pieces of legislation were combined into a single bill. The House passed the single bill on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
Because the bill will be categorized as a ‘message between the houses,’ Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer can skip the 60-vote threshold needed to start debate, allowing him to bypass Republicans’ vow to filibuster.
That will allow debate to begin on the legislation. However, it doesn’t guarantee the legislation will get passed. When debate on the bill concludes, Schumer will still need 60 votes to file cloture to end debate on the bill – that means he needs 10 GOP senators on board.
Republicans can use their filibuster power then to stop the legislation its tracks.
Here is what is in the legislation:
The Freedom to Vote Act is a slimmed down version of the House-passed For the People Act, a massive Democratic bill on on voting rights, campaign finance, and federal ethics.
After Senate Republicans filibustered the For the People Act in the Senate in June, a group of Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin, drafted the Freedom To Vote Act.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called the act an attempt by Democratic lawmakers ‘to have the federal government take over how elections are conducted all over America.’
The legislation would require:
- Making Election Day as a federal holiday.
- Creating a national standard on elections: A set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box across the country.
- Online, automatic, and same-day voter registration.
- A minimum of 15 days of early voting, including during at least two weekends.
- No-excuse mail voting with ample access to ballot drop boxes and online ballot tracking, in addition to streamlined election mail delivery by the US Postal Service.
- States would need to accept a wide range of forms of non-photographic identification in places where ID is required to vote.
- Counting eligible votes on provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
- Restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people convicted of felonies.
- Imposes stricter regulations on voter list maintenance that make it harder for states to remove eligible voters from the rolls.
- More protections and resources to serve voters with disabilities and overseas/military voters.
- Greater federal protections and oversight for voting in US territories.
- Improving voter registration resources and outreach, in addition to reauthorizing and strengthening the US Election Assistance Commission.
It would also:
- Prohibit partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to use certain criteria when drawing new congressional districts.
- Require states to use voter-verifiable paper ballots and conduct post-election audits.
- Give cybersecurity grants to states and directs the EAC to strengthen cybersecurity standards for voting equipment.
- Prohibit local election officials from being fired or removed without cause.
- Make interfering with voter registration a federal crime, and imposes stricter penalties against harassment, threats, and intimidation of election workers.
- Restate chain of custody requirements protecting the integrity of ballots and election materials, a provision meant to combat unofficial partisan ‘audits.’
Finally, on campaign finance reform:
- It includes provisions from the DISCLOSE Act, which targets so-called dark money in elections, and the HONEST Ads Act, which seeks to enhance transparency in campaign advertising.
- Creates a federal obligation for campaigns to report instances of foreign interference.
- Stricter enforcement of illegal coordination between single-candidate PACs and campaigns.
- Stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations by the Federal Election Commission.
The John Lewis bill would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights of 1965 that have been struck down or weakened by the Supreme Court, and change the way federal courts handle election cases.
Senate Republicans struck down the act in November. All GOP senators voted against it except Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. But her support still left Democrats short the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation.
McConnell called the bill a ‘trojan horse.’
‘This is a Trojan horse to carry a lot of other provisions that the Democrats had wanted to enact through the earlier voting rights bill that we’ve already considered and rejected,’ he said.
‘Clearly they want to change the subject away from how the American people feel about this administration, about the reckless tax and spending bill onto a nonexistent problem with this marching out of the John Lewis voting rights act,’ he said.
- It creates a new formula to restore the federal preclearance requirement mandating states with histories of discrimination to seek permission from the federal government before enacting new voting rules or redistricting plan. The Supreme Court struck down the old formula.
- Reverses the Supreme Court’s new ‘guideposts’ and standards from the Brnovich decision that make it harder for plaintiffs to prove racial discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
- Enshrines judicial precedent and legislative history to strengthen efforts to draw majority-minority districts under the parameters of the Voting Rights Act.
- Takes aim at the federal courts by requiring judges to explain their reasoning in emergency rulings they take up on the so-called shadow docket, and tries to limit judges’ from relying solely on the proximity to the election in deciding emergency cases on election rules, known as the Purcell principle.
- Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act, which provides greater federal protections for election workers against harassment and intimidation.
- Includes the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill that strengthens voting rights and voter protections for voters in Indian Country.
Manchin has said several times he is willing to change the Senate rules but only with Republican support. Democratic senators have been meeting with both him and Sinema this week in an effort to get their two colleagues on board.
And Harris went after the two senators in an interview with NBC News.
‘I don’t think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy, especially when they took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution,’ she said.
Schumer has said repeatedly he wants voting legislation passed by January 17th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Senate Majority Leader also has warned senators they may have to stay in Washington D.C. for the weekend, and some are expecting the vote to take place on Monday – the federal holiday.
The pressure campaign is on.
Barack Obama, in an op-ed published in USA Today, wrote that the Senate filibuster ‘has no basis in the Constitution’ and argued it was used by Southern senators to block civil rights legislation that disinfranchised black voters.
‘I fully support President Joe Biden’s call to modify Senate rules as necessary to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote,’ Obama wrote.
‘In recent years, the filibuster became a routine way for the Senate minority to to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters. But we can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy,’ he noted.
Barack Obama joined the campaign to pressure Democratic senators into supporting voting rights legislation, backing Joe Biden’s demand to kill the Senate filibuster
In his op-ed, Obama invoked the words of legendary civil rights leader John Lewis, for whom one of the voting bill is named.
And he warned of legislation being passed in Republican-controlled states that could hurt Democrats at the ballot box this November, when voters will decide which party controls the House and Senate.
‘What we’re seeing now are far more aggressive and precise efforts on the part of Republican state legislatures to tilt the playing field in their favor,’ Obama wrote.
‘Perhaps most perniciously, we’ve seen state legislatures try to assert power over core election processes including the ability to certify election results. These partisan attempts at voter nullification are unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, and they represent a profound threat to the basic democratic principle that all votes should be counted fairly and objectively,’ he added.
His support comes after Biden went to Atlanta where he attacked Republicans for not supporting the voting legislation and called for the change in Senate rules to get it passed.
‘The threat to our democracy is so grave, we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote,’ Biden said in his speech. ‘Let the majority prevail.’
Republicans ratched up the rhetoric on Wednesday in response to Biden’s own fiery address, where he accused the GOP of standing on the wrong side of history when it came to voting rights.
‘The president’s rant – rant – yesterday was incorrect, incoherent, and beneath his office,’ Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in his remarks on the Senate floor, calling Biden’s speech ‘profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.’
In response, Biden tried to meet with McConnell when he was at the Capitol to pay his respects to the late Senate leader Harry Reid, whose remains were lying in state in the Capitol rotunda.
The two men did not connnect, however.
Biden seemed to shrug off the attacks.
‘I like Mitch McConnell. He’s a friend,’ he told reporters in the Capitol when asked about what McConnell remarks.
President Joe Biden tried to meet with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol on Wednesday but the two did not connect
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Capitol on Wednesday when Biden went to pay his respects to the late Harry Reid
The war of words comes as both sides prepare for this November’s midterm election, which will determine what political party controls the House and Senate next year. The battle centers on voting rights legislation that Democrats want to pass, saying it will protect the right vote, and Republicans roundly oppose, saying elections are state issues.
Biden made the case for Democrats in a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, which led to the Senate Republican leader’s response.
Biden ‘delivered a deliberately divisive speech,’ McConnell charged. ‘It was designed to pull our country further apart.’
McConnell blasted Biden for comparing those who opposed federal voting laws ‘to literal traitors’ and said he was demonizing ‘Americans who disagreed with him.’
‘He called millions of Americans his domestic enemies,’ the GOP leader charged.
‘Look I’ve known liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday,’ he noted.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell tore into President Joe Biden, calling his Atlanta speech ‘incorrect, incoherent, and beneath his office’
In his speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, President Joe Biden repeatedly attacked Republicans for blocking voting rights legislation and accused them of weaponizing the filibuster
In his speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, Biden repeatedly attacked Republicans for blocking voting rights legislation and accused them of weaponizing the filibuster.
‘The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart,’ he said. ‘The filibuster has been weaponized and abused.’
And Biden framed the debate as a political choice – to support or divide the country.
‘Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?,’ Biden asked.
‘This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy,’ he said, adding ‘Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote.’
But as Biden makes the case against the filibuster, Republicans argue for it, warning killing it to make an exception for voting rights legislation could lead to it being killed for other issues, diminishing its power.
The loss of the filibuster’s power is behind Manchin’s and Sinema’s hesitiation in voting to kill it.
So Biden on Thursday will frame his argument to Democrats that the filibuster is being used to obstruct.
In his meeting with Senate Democrats, the president will ‘discuss the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections against un-American attacks based on the Big Lie, and to again underline that doing so requires changing the rules of the Senate to make the institution work again,’ the White House said.
The comment echoes one Manchin made on Tuesday, where he said he would support changing Senate rules to make ‘the place work better.’
‘I’m not for breaking the filibuster, but I am for making the place work better by changing the rules,’ Manchin said.
Schumer also weighed in with an election warning to his Democrats, telling them they could lose their seats if they don’t support the legislation.
‘We are working there are constant meetings and not just among the few senators, but just about every senator – every single one of the 50 [other than Manchin and Sinema] is talking individually to Joe Manchin to Kyrsten Sinema – and they’re saying things like: ‘I’ll lose my election if the legislature is allowed to do this in my state,” Schumer said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
He continued: ‘We lose our majority – but more importantly, we’ll lose our democracy. And those speakers yesterday that I mentioned were very powerful,’ he said.
Democrats are urging Sen. Joe to reconsider his opposition to ending the filibuster to deal with voting rights legislation. ‘They’re saying things like: ‘I’ll lose my election if the legislature is allowed to do this in my state,” Majority Leader Charles Schumer said
Fact-check: Falsehoods and misleading claims in Biden’s Jan. 11 Atlanta, Georgia speech
In a fiery speech in Atlanta, Georgia, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made a number of false and/or misleading claims about Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021.
FALSE CLAIM: Biden said, ‘[Georgia’s law] makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters, food or water while they wait in line to vote.’
FALSE CLAM: Harris said, ‘There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to pass out water or food to people standing in long voting lines.’
TRUTH: The Georgia law explicitly allows election workers to provide water at self-serve stations to people waiting in voting lines. Food and drinks can also be provided to voters outside of 150-feet of a polling place. States commonly pass laws to limit politically-affiliated groups from providing food and drinks to voters at a polling place.
MISLEADING CLAIM: Biden said, ‘Dropping your ballots off to secure drop boxes—it’s safe, it’s convenient, and you get more people to vote. So they’re limiting the number of drop boxes and the hours you can use them.’
TRUTH: Ballot drop boxes were introduced in Georgia in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 Georgia law explicitly allows drop boxes in the statute for the first time, but it reduces the number of boxes in the state. Republicans say the new rules ensure that boxes are secure. Critics contend it is an effort to suppress the vote.
MISLEADING CLAIM: Biden said, ‘voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote, so they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail.’
TRUTH: Biden is likely referring to the state law that bans mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications. Again, unsolicited absentee-ballot mailings were introduced amid the pandemic. The state now requires voters to request an absentee ballot, much like other states, including New York. Georgia also allows no-excuse absentee voting, New York does not.
VAGUE CLAIM: Biden said, ‘I did not live the struggle of Douglass, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and countless others—known and unknown. I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds [Morehouse College in Atlanta]. But I walked other grounds… It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.’
CONTEXT: Biden seemed to be suggesting that he was ‘arrested’ while participating in a civil rights protest. The White House has not responded to requests for clarification, but there is no known reporting indicating Biden was ever arrested at a civil rights protest.
It’s not just Manchin and Sinema who are resisting changing the Senate rules to kill the filisbuster. So is the 50-strong Republican minority, including senators such as Mitt Romney of Utah who have denounced Trump’s election fraud claims.
Romney tore into Biden after his Atlant speech. He said Biden was taking the same ‘tragic road’ as Trump in undermining the democratic process in a searing speech on the Senate floor.
He also urged Democrats to think about ‘what would it mean for them’ to abolish the filibuster now and see themselves potentially losing Congress and the White House in the near future — and chided them for decrying it as racist.
‘He also accused a number of my good and principled colleagues in the Senate of having sinister, even racist inclinations,’ Romney said. ‘So much for unifying the country and working across the aisle.’
Why do Biden and the Democrats want to kill the filibuster to pass voting rights?
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the U.S. Senate should consider scrapping a longstanding supermajority rule known as the ‘filibuster’ if necessary to pass voting-rights legislation that is opposed by Republicans.
It is a surprising move for Biden who defended the rule during his 36 years as a Senator. But he believes the current threat to democracy is so severe Congress needs to pass either the Freedom to Vote Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act without Republican support.
‘I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,’ he said in his speech in Atlanta. ‘Debate them. Vote. Let the majority prevail—and if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.
Critics say the filibuster, which requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation, is an anti-democratic hurdle that prevents Washington from addressing pressing problems.
Supporters say it forces lawmakers to seek consensus, serves as important check on the party in power and ensures that major laws that affect American life don’t change radically with every election.
Once a rarity, the filibuster is now routinely invoked. In recent months, Republicans have used it to block voting-rights bills and bring the United States perilously close to a crippling debt default.
Democrats could use their razor-thin Senate majority to eliminate the filibuster altogether.
But centrist Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose this move, saying that it will shatter the few bipartisan bonds that remain and give Republicans free rein if they take a majority in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has warned that his party would use other tactics to bring the chamber to a halt if the filibuster is eliminated.
WHAT IS THE FILIBUSTER? TERM DERIVED FROM CARIBBEAN PIRATES THAT MEANS ‘TALKING TO DEATH’
Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate was set up to allow for unlimited debate. In the 19th century, lawmakers developed the filibuster – a word derived from Dutch and Spanish terms for Caribbean pirates – as a way to talk a bill to death.
Then-Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond set the record when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to block a major civil rights bill. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy spoke for nearly 15 hours in 2016 to press for gun-control legislation and Republican Senator Ted Cruz spoke for more than 21 hours in 2013 to protest President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. None of those efforts were successful.
Senators agreed in 1917 that a vote by a two-thirds majority could end debate on a given bill. That majority was reduced in 1975 to three-fifths of the Senate, currently 60 senators.
Under current rules, senators don’t need to talk to gum up the works — they merely need to register their objection to initiate a filibuster.
Over the past 50 years, the number of filibusters has skyrocketed as Democrats and Republicans have become more politically polarized. From 1969 to 1970 there were six votes to overcome a filibuster, the nearest reliable proxy. There were 298 such votes in the 2019-2020 legislative session.
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM FOR DEMOCRATS?
Democrats control 50 seats in the Senate, which allows them to eke together a majority with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking 51st vote when needed. They can’t overcome filibusters unless at least 10 Republicans vote with them.
Democrats were able to bypass the filibuster to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan using a special process known as ‘reconciliation’ that only requires a simple majority for certain budget bills. But that process is subject to complex limitations and cannot be used regularly.
Republicans have blocked many other Democratic priorities, though 19 of them did vote for a $1 trillion package to revamp the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
CAN THE FILIBUSTER BE CHANGED?
There have already been changes.
In 2013, Democrats removed the 60-vote threshold for voting on most nominees for administration jobs, apart from the Supreme Court, allowing them to advance on a simple majority vote.
In 2017, Republicans did the same thing for Supreme Court nominees. Both the 2013 and 2017 Senate rule changes were made by simple majority votes.
Some Democrats have called for eliminating the filibuster entirely, but they lack the 50 votes needed to take that step.
Democrats plan to vote sometime over the next week to scale back the filibuster so it would not apply to voting-related legislation. But it’s not clear whether they have the votes for this either; Manchin said last week that he would prefer to get some Republican buy-in for that change.
On Sunday he said he might support making the tactic more ‘painful’ by requiring senators to keep talking on the Senate floor.
Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, long supported the filibuster but has grown more open to changing it as Republicans have blocked several of his major initiatives over the past year.