Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, made a promise this week that he will push a vote to change the Senate rules by January 17 if the GOP continues to oppose Democrat’s voting rights bill. That date is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Schumer tweeted, “If Republicans continue to block our efforts, The Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: Free and fair elections.”
The New York senator also sent a letter to the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus outlining the same issue. In the letter, he stated that the fight for the ballot is as old as the Republic. He noted that in the next several weeks, the Senate will consider again how to “perfect this union” and confront the massive challenges that our democracy is facing. He said that he hopes his GOP colleagues will change the direction they have been taking and begin working with the Democrats. But if the Republicans choose not to do this, he will begin a debate focused on changing Senate rules right around Martin Luther King Jr. Day so that he can protect the foundation of the democracy. He believes this foundation is free and fair elections.
While making this new vow, he connected it to the anniversary of the January 6, 2021 uprising at the U.S. Capitol Building.
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“Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness, an effort to delegitimize our election process, and the Senate must advance systemic reforms to repair our democracy or else the events of that day will not be an aberration—they will be the new norm,” the senator wrote in his letter.
It should also be made clear that Schumer is not just talking about changing the rules of the Senate and voting rights legislation. His Democratic colleagues have discussed efforts to end the filibuster. This is a long-standing rule in the Senate that requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most legislation among the 100 members of the Senate.
This significant rule change would require all 50 Democrats to hold the party line together. If there is a 50-50 tie vote, then the vice president can cast a vote. So far, this kind of unity has been hard to come by because of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Democrats see voting rights and legislation to overhaul elections and campaign finance as crucial especially now that GOP-led states are debating and enacting new voting rules.
Democrats have not yet finalized a plan but they are discussing a number of ideas that include creating a carveout from the filibuster for voting rights legislation. They are also considering implementing a talking filibuster that would let bills pass with a simple majority. And they have thought about moving from requiring 60 “yes” votes to enact a filibuster to requiring 41 “no” votes to sustain it.
The filibuster rule has kept down several of President Joe Biden’s legislative efforts since he has taken office. The Democratic Party controls the House and they have 50 members in the Senate. The supermajority of the 60-vote requirement has dampened the Build Back Better bill along with other progressive legislation that has been brought by Democrats before the Senate.
Schumer has challenged this issue for months, and when he was recently asked about filibuster reform, he said that all options were “on the table” for getting voting rights legislation passed through the Senate. He went even further this week by arguing that the Senate rules had been “hijacked to guarantee obstruction.” The senator said that his colleagues must adapt and the Senate must evolve as it has down in history.