President Biden held private talks with a cadre of Senate Democrats on Thursday in an effort to mobilize support for blowing up the filibuster to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s voting laws.
Mr. Biden discussed the topic with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin III, among others, via Zoom. Lawmakers present on the call said Mr. Biden was attempting to gauge whether the push to alter the Senate‘s rules has sufficient support to succeed.
“He was encouraging us,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who took part in the call. “Thanking us and encouraging us … [but asking] ‘Are you talking? Are you taking it seriously? Are you trying to get there?’”
During the meeting, the president also stressed the need for Congress to combat a recent flurry of state laws strengthening the elections process.
“It was just talking about the importance of not suppressing the vote, which is pretty fundamental to our democracy,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who was also part of the call.
Mr. Biden‘s intercession comes as Democrats have privately been working on a plan to change the Senate‘s longstanding filibuster rules, which require at least 60 votes to end debate on legislation, to pass the election legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warns that any effort to weaken the filibuster will launch a new era of partisan warfare.
“Entire generations of statesmen would have seen … these unhinged proposals as Armageddon for our institutions,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Lashing out at our democracy … and at the Senate itself is not going to solve anything.”
It is unclear exactly what the rule change would look like. Some lawmakers are pushing for a one-time filibuster carve-out to pass the Democrats’ election legislation.
Others want a more radical change to the Senate. Along those lines, there is talk of changing the filibuster rule to require 41 “no” votes for continuing debate rather than 60 “yes” votes for ending debate.
Another possibility would have senators mount an old-fashioned “talking filibuster,” which would require lawmakers to speak continuously on the floor in objection to a bill. Senators currently are allowed to merely object to ending debate, forcing leadership to round up the votes necessary to overcome the 60-vote threshold.
“Republicans at the state level are passing the most egregious restrictions on voting rights we’ve seen since segregation and they’re doing it on an entirely partisan basis,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Senate Democrats are working to find a path forward to respond to these attacks.”
The key to unlocking the rules change is Mr. Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat. His support, with that of every other Democratic senator, would allow the majority to push through the change with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
Mr. Manchin has not specified if he is on board with the filibuster carve-out, but he has held talks with Democrats and Republicans on what changes need to be made to make the Senate operate better.
Democrats say the recent success in creating a one-time, fast-track process for raising the debt ceiling by a simple majority vote has created an opportunity.
They argue that the measure, which passed only because of the support of 10 Republican senators, has opened the door for a broader effort to suspend the filibuster one time to pass the elections bill.
“Be very clear, last week we changed the rules of the Senate. To address another important issue, the economy,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia Democrat. “This is a step, a change in the Senate rules we haven’t been willing to take to save our broken democracy, but one that a bipartisan majority of this chamber thought was necessary in order to keep our economy strong.”
The shift to voting rights comes as Mr. Biden‘s $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change package has stalled amid Democratic divisions.