Democrats, Converted to Filibuster Foes, Are Set to Force the Issue

WASHINGTON — When the Senate voted in January 2011 on what was then considered an outlandish proposal to allow a simple majority of senators to break filibusters, only a dozen Democrats backed the plan, which went down in a flamingly lopsided vote.

A decade on, the vast majority of Senate Democrats have come around to the view that the filibuster rules — which require a supermajority of 60 votes to bring legislation to a final vote — are antiquated and unworkable, and have become the primary obstacle to meaningful policy changes that enjoy broad support.

“In the past 10 years, so many have been converted to the cause that it is now near unanimous that something radical, including abolishing the filibuster, needs to be done to fix the system,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, one of the 12 who tried unsuccessfully to rein in the filibuster in the past.

It is that “near,” though, that is the issue today. Some Senate Democrats remain dug in against any change in filibuster rules, even though Republicans are threatening to block many of their party’s most cherished priorities. Now Democrats are about to embark on a strategy to try to demonstrate to those reluctant colleagues — and to the public at large — that the filibuster is being abused by Senate Republicans intent on depriving them and President Biden of crucial legislation.

“If we want to protect the right to vote, we have to repeal the filibuster,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. “If we want gun safety legislation, we have to repeal the filibuster. If we want to save the planet from climate change, we have to repeal the filibuster.”

After months of dancing around the issue, the Senate had its first filibuster of the year last week when Republicans blocked a bipartisan House-passed measure to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by forces supportive of Donald J. Trump. Thirty-five Republicans voted against the commission and another eight skipped the vote altogether, underscoring how little effort it takes to block legislation under the current rules, which puts the onus on proponents of a bill to produce the 60 votes needed to move it forward.

At the same time, Republicans tied up a bipartisan measure intended to improve American competitiveness with China, even after they had had substantial input into the legislation, which is expected to pass easily. That move made clear to many Democrats that Republicans will not cooperate even on bills they helped write, preferring instead to make life difficult for the majority.

In a letter to his colleagues as they left Washington for Memorial Day, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said the Republican tactics demonstrated the “limits of bipartisanship and the resurgence of Republican obstructionism.”

Mr. Schumer said he intended to bring the filibuster showdown to a head beginning next week, by forcing votes on a series of measures that Republicans oppose, including one that was blocked by a Republican filibuster in 2014 that seeks to ensure that women and men receive the same pay for equal work. Mr. Schumer hinted that he could also bring forward legislation on gay rights and gun safety. Most immediately, he promised a vote before the end of June on a sweeping voting rights bill that Democrats say is needed to counter new Republican-led voting restrictions being enacted in states around the nation.

The idea is to show Democrats refusing to change the filibuster rules that Republicans led by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, are going to stand in the way of legislation that has widespread support, and that the only way to win their adoption is by overturning the rules. The hope is for more of the “conversions” that Mr. Blumenthal noted.

“Each vote will be building the case to convict the Republican Senate leadership of engaging in political gridlock for their advantage, rather than voting for the agenda the American people voted for in 2020,” Mr. Markey said.

It is replicating a strategy that Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, employed in 2013 to persuade fellow Democrats to blow up the filibuster for judicial and executive branch nominees. He purposefully lined up a series of votes on highly regarded nominees to the influential United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. When Republicans repeatedly blocked them, Mr. Reid gathered enough Democratic support to change the rules by a majority vote.

Mr. Reid was working with a larger majority than Mr. Schumer — 55 compared with 50 Democrats today — and among those he failed to convince was Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a prominent Democratic opponent of weakening the filibuster and one of three Democrats who balked at the changes in 2013.

He is not the only holdout. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, doubled down on her opposition to changing the filibuster during an appearance back home this week as she stood beside Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of the Republicans who had just blocked the Jan. 6 commission.

The Battle Over Voting Rights

Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and changing how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.

    • A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills have been introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
    • The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
    • More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
    • Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would likely face steep legal challenges.
    • Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
    • Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature are brushing aside objections from corporate titans and moving on a vast election bill that would be among the most severe in the nation. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties and greatly empower partisan poll watchers.
    • Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day. And bills to restrict voting have been moving through the Republican-led Legislature in Michigan.

    Source: Read Full Article