You might think that the Democrats in the Senate are trying to curb piracy in order to carry out electoral reform. This is not entirely true.
President Joe Biden’s party is trying to get something narrower by discussing a list of possible changes to Senate rules that could help pass electoral and voting rights laws without removing the 60-vote threshold now required for most bills to pass. And the smaller-scale ideas that Democrats are currently debating may not be able to completely overcome the GOP’s staunch opposition to the election bill.
Not to mention, it’s unclear if Democrats have votes to take away power in the Senate from a minority party, given public opposition from Senators Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz). The two centrists support the electoral reform measure but oppose changing the 60-vote threshold and have yet to make it clear they are willing to make any rule changes at all.
“Different people have different ideas about what reform should be,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut. “We’re trying to come to a consensus.”
Given that the Senate is equally divided, Democrats will need all 50 members of their caucus to support any party line adjustments, a process known as “nuclear.” This issue is expected to climax this week, but it will not be as dramatic as the term nuclear suggests.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to accept and vote on the House rule changes by Monday, the birthday of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., if Republicans block the Democratic election again. the reform bill (which they plan to do).
If Sumer gets his way, the party may get Manchin’s vote for a small portion of the reform. If Manchin and Sinema can be persuaded to vote along the party line for any rule change that allows an electoral law to pass, this little reform will look historically large in no time.
However, this is a big “if”. Three of Manchin’s centrist caucuses, Senator Tim Kane of Virginia, John Tester of Montana, and Angus King of Maine, met with Manchin to try to influence him. But until the party unites around a single proposal or a set of proposals, it is difficult to understand why Manchin and Cinema will be forced to vote in favor.
Here are some of the options that Democrats are discussing:
Under current Senate rules, senators need 60 votes to complete debates on most bills. (Final adoption still requires a simple majority, but senators must vote first to end the debate.) A return to the so-called “talking filibuster,” which the House effectively abandoned in the 1970s, requires a minority party senator to speak as long as he or she wants to block the bill. As long as the senator continues to speak, the debate cannot end.
Yes, this is “lord”. Smith Goes to Washington ”for those who have seen Jimmy Stewart’s 1939 classic film.
Under the speaking filibuster, 60 senators can vote to end the debate at any time. If this does not happen, the debate continues until the minority party leaves a vacancy in the hall – after which the majority party can proceed to the final adoption of the bill, requiring only a simple majority of votes.
Republicans argue that going to a talking filibuster will harm minority rights.
“This is still not in line with the recent tradition of filibusters to defend minority rights. It only lengthens the process" said Senator Kevin Kramer (RN.D.).
Clearing the path to debate
The current Senate rules require 60 votes to even start debating the bill, allowing a minority of Senators to thwart the bill. Democrats are considering a proposal that would cut the number of votes needed to start a debate from 60 to 50, a move that could potentially be accompanied by a chatty filibuster.
Schumer has repeatedly said the Senate should hold a debate on electoral reform legislation, a signal that the move may be one of those that Democrats are pushing for.
Under one version of that proposal, Democrats will combine their change with ensuring that both sides receive an equal number of relevant or appropriate amendments once debate begins. This does not mean that the amendments will be limited; Supporters of facilitating the start of the debate say guaranteeing a certain number of amendments by both sides will soften the blow to the minority.
But the GOP is confident the blow will be huge, no matter what.
Allocation of voting rights
The Democrats also discussed the possibility of the so-called “exclusion” from obstruction of voting rights and electoral reform. In line with this idea, Democrats will change Senate rules to allow a one-time exception to pass the party’s priority legislation with a simple majority threshold.
But this is perhaps the least likely option for Democrats; Manchin and Sinema said they did not support the exception.
Democrats are also considering changing the number of senators needed to end piracy. Current rules require 60 senators, no matter how many actually vote that day, but some Democrats want to change that number to three-fifths of the senators actually voting.
In other words, if 80 senators turn up for a particular vote, the Senate would only need 48 members to vote to end the filibuster, not 60.
Another option, which Democrats are discussing, would require the minority party to provide 41 votes to continue the stonewalling. This pitch will automatically end the debate if 41 minority members do not appear on the floor.
Until Senate Democrats decide which option to take, even faction members find it difficult to gauge how close they are to support. And smaller rule changes do not necessarily guarantee the passage of the election and voting rights bill. Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon, who has long advocated the rule change, is making his case in private presentations to his peers.
Senator Chris Koons (D-Del.) Said this week will be critical for the party to choose its course, adding that he met with his staff earlier Monday to ask, “What exactly are we voting for? What language, what sentence?"
To make any changes to the rules after they decide on some, Democrats will have to vote on the party line to pass them. That’s where the word is "nuclear" comes in – although this refers to the political and interpersonal effect of change, not the level of fireworks on the floor. In fact, the actual process is discreet.
Here’s how it works: After a failed vote, the Majority Leader issues what is known as a “business order”, essentially saying that a Senate rule is being violated. The senator seated in the chair is weighing this issue, referring to the rules in force. The Majority Leader can then ask the President to change the House Rules, and the Senate votes on that appeal with a simple majority required for adoption.
The Senate first went nuclear in 2013, when then Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada, changed the rules by allowing the Senate to approve executives and justices, with the exception of the Supreme Court, by simple majority.
Mitch McConnell, then Majority Leader, went nuclear in 2017 so that Supreme Court candidates could be approved by a simple majority. In 2019, he pushed through yet another rule change along the party line, shortening the debate time required to approve some non-cabinet candidates.
But no matter what rule changes the Democrats choose, it won’t be easy to convince Manchin and Sinema to go nuclear. Manchin has voted against every rule change along the party line since joining the Senate in 2010.