Sen. Joe Manchin III and other Senate Democrats are skeptical about President Biden’s push to blow up the filibuster to rewrite the nation’s election laws.
Mr. Manchin said that gridlock has paralyzed the Senate but scrapping the chamber’s 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation is not the way forward.
“We need some good rules changes to make the place work better,” said the West Virginia Democrat said on Tuesday. “But getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better.”
Mr. Manchin added that changing the filibuster would be tantamount to destroying the Senate itself, given how closely the rule is associated with the chamber’s reputation as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
“It’s a tradition of the Senate for 232 years now,” Mr. Manchin said. “It’s something that we need to be very cautious about what we do. Every American has a right to vote … but [the filibuster] is basically what makes the [Senate] different.”
The comments undercut Mr. Biden’s speech Tuesday in Georgia where he will champion calls to jettison the filibuster and pass two partisan voting measures. He plans to say the Republicans have put democracy at risk by limiting voting.
Republicans oppose the Democratic bill that they say is a partisan attempt to nationalize elections and skew laws in their favor.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, needs the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to blow up the filibuster in a party-line vote.
At the moment, that looks like an impossible feat.
Outside of Mr. Manchin, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has argued in recent weeks that changing the chamber’s 60-vote threshold may damage the institution and the country.
“Sen. Sinema has asked those who want to weaken or eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation, which she supports if it would be good for our country to do so,” said John LaBombard, the communications director for Ms. Sinema.
Likewise, a cadre of vulnerable Senate Democrats running in purple states in 2022 remains undecided on gutting the filibuster.
“I’ve never been part of an organization where it’s really, really hard to do things,” said Sen. Mark Kelly, a freshman Democrat from Arizona who faces a tough reelection campaign this year. “So if there’s a real proposal, I’ll take a look at it and evaluate it based on what’s in the best interests of the country.”
While progressive elements of the Democratic have called for a full abrogation of the filibuster, other lawmakers are pushing for a less ambitious overhaul. Some want a one-time filibuster exemption just to pass the voting measures.
“I’m open to a carve-out,” said Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat. “I think we need to take a look at how this play works or doesn’t work. To figure out solutions.”
Mr. Manchin, for his part, says a one-time exemption would set a dangerous precedent and would likely be abused in the future.
Democratic lawmakers are also weighing whether to change the filibuster to require 41 “no” votes for continuing debate rather than 60 “yes” votes for ending debate. Along those lines, there are proposals to scrap the 60-vote threshold altogether for starting debate on the legislation but keeping it intact for ending debate.
Some lawmakers have also floated a requirement that 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 leaders to round up the votes necessary to overcome the 60-vote threshold.
Mr. Biden has escalated the showdown on election laws since the demise last month of his $1.75 trillion social justice and climate bill that was the centerpiece of his domestic agenda.
Mr. Manchin single-handedly derailed the bill when he announced his opposition. The massive spending bill also needed the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to succeed.
Mr. Biden will travel to Georgia on Tuesday to drum up support using the “nuclear option” of ending the filibuster, which Senate Democrats plan to put to a vote on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday Monday.
“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Mr. Biden plans to say, according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light overshadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”
Further complicating matters, Mr. Manchin has demanded that any rules change have bipartisan support from Republicans.
“We do need some real changes and I think the Democrats or Republicans can agree on that because both are frustrated,” he said.
GOP lawmakers oppose any effort to weaken the filibuster, arguing that it would “break” the very nature of the Senate.
“The filibuster is about more than what gets blocked, it shapes almost everything the senate actually does pass,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “It gives all kinds of citizens and all kinds of states a meaningful voice in nearly everything we do.”