Senate to address filibuster ahead of voting rights bill vote

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D - NY) sent a letter to colleagues on Monday calling for a vote to change Senate filibuster rules by January 17 ( Sen. Schumer has wanted to abolish the filibuster since Democrats took back the majority (albeit slim) in the Senate last year. While Democrats have controlled the House since the 2018 election, the 50-50 tie in the Senate (with Vice President Harris holding the tie breaker) has provided them with the first opportunity to pass landmark legislation since the Affordable Care Act. Democrats had previously held a majority in the Senate in 2015 and in the House in 2011.

The primary reason Sen. Schumer wants to abolish the filibuster because he lacks the 60 votes currently necessary to override Republican opposition. The most significant piece of legislation on the docket is House Bill 1, a massive elections and voting overhaul. This bill is meant to address changes made to election policies by several states, and the January 6, 2021 Capitol Building violence. While Republicans have argued that the 2020 election opened the door for mass voter fraud, Democrats have accused them of using this opportunity to disenfranchise voters and influence elections in their favor for the foreseeable future. Republicans have accused Democrats of the same thing, claiming that the bill would do more to stifle election security and voting opportunities than help.

Even if Democrats do end up voting on the filibuster, they still have an uphill battle. Senators Joe Manchin (D - WV) and Krysten Sinema (D - Arizona) have expressed opposition to the rule change. Both are worried about the long term consequences of such a change, especially if Republicans retake the majority in 2022. While President Biden has kept relatively neutral on the topic, he recently stated in an interview with ABC that he would make an exception to the rules for this specific piece of legislation, but was open to it occurring in the future too. He said, “If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster… And maybe more.” The more progressive members of the Democratic Party have even called for an expansion of the Supreme Court in order to counterbalance the most recent Trump appointees, but Democrats are a little more hesitant to test those waters.

Is the filibuster outdated or a necessary aspect of checks and balances? Should exceptions be made if legislation is deemed “essential”? Should other rules be reassessed in the name of “progress” and “efficiency” or have they stood the test of time?

Image Credit: AP Photo/J. Scoot Applewhite

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