Politics & Policy

Schumer Threatens to Nuke Filibuster If GOP Stands Ground on Voting Bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) looks on during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 15, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday that the chamber would debate eliminating the filibuster in the coming weeks if Republicans refuse to join Democrats in passing sweeping voting legislation. 

While the filibuster was designed to empower the minority party in the Senate, Schumer argued that it now serves to “embarrass the will of the majority,” against the founders’ intentions for legislative procedure. He claimed that Republicans should not be allowed to block the Freedom to Vote Act, using the vehicle of the filibuster, that only further enshrines and expands the American right to vote.

Schumer has previously expressed support for altering the filibuster but the statement is his strongest in favor of the idea.

“We must adapt. The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before. The Senate was designed to evolve and has evolved many times in our history,” Schumer wrote. “As former Senator Robert Byrd famously said, Senate Rules ‘must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.’ Put more plainly by Senator Byrd, ‘Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past.'”

“The fight for the ballot is as old as the Republic. Over the coming weeks, the Senate will once again consider how to perfect this union and confront the historic challenges facing our democracy. We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us. But if they do not, 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,” he added.

Republicans have argued that the proposed bill would erode the integrity of the voting process by broadening mail-in voting and diluting voter identification requirements while violating the principle of federalism by overriding state laws.

After moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin tanked President Biden’s Build Back Better trillion-dollar social-spending package, putting it on the back burner at least temporarily, the party pivoted to its voting bill, intent on advancing at least one policy priority before the end of the legislative session. Since that shift, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Manchin’s moderate Democratic counterpart, has already reiterated that she is not interested in overhauling the institution of the filibuster to pass the voting bill, despite pressure and protests from her party.

While Schumer strongly supports changing the filibuster now, in 2005, when Senate Democrats were in the minority in Congress, he said killing the filibuster would “be a doomsday for democracy.”

Referring to the GOP majority, he said then: “They want, because they can’t get their way  on every judge, to change the rules in midstream, to wash away 200 years of history. They want to make this country into a banana republic where if you don’t get your way, you change the rules.”

Party leadership intends to wield the specter of the January 6 capitol riot, taking advantage of the Thursday one-year anniversary, to pressure the two hold outs on the grounds that the riot was just the beginning of a process of democratic erosion that has continued in Republican state houses.

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