Sen. Bernard Sanders is publicly urging primary challenges to moderate Democrats standing in the way of blowing up the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist from Vermont, said it was vital to jettison the filibuster if it continued to stand in the way of President Biden’s partisan rewrite of the nation’s voting laws.
“State legislatures are moving aggressively to suppress the vote and to impose extreme gerrymandering among many other things,” Mr. Sanders said. “Anybody who believes in American democracy has got to vote … to suspend the filibuster, at least on this vote.”
Any change to the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to advance legislation, needs the support of every single Democrat because the chamber is evenly split between the two parties. At least two moderate Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have publicly opposed blowing up the filibuster.
Mr. Sanders argued that if the moderates do not fall in line there would be serious political repercussions.
“I hope we are going to have 50 votes,” Mr. Sanders said. “If we don’t, they’re gonna have to go home and explain to their constituents.”
When pressed whether the holdouts should face primary challenges, Mr. Sanders said while he was personally open to supporting such efforts, it would ultimately be up to the voters.
“I think there is a very good chance … so it’s up to the people in those states, but it’s not just even voting right,” he said.
Mr. Manchin, who served as governor of increasingly Republican-leaning West Virginia before ascending to the Senate, welcomed the idea of a primary challenge over his position on the filibuster.
“I’ve been primaried my entire life. That would not be anything new for me. I’ve never run an election where I wasn’t primaried,” Mr. Manchin said. “This is West Virginia, it’s rough and tumble. We’re used to that, so bring it on.”
The fight over the filibuster is increasingly acrimonious among Democrats.
Lawmakers say that while the rule is in place, Mr. Biden’s agenda will make little progress, as has been the case on the topic of voting.
Since the 2020 election, Democrats have argued that federal action is required to combat a slew of new voting laws in Republican-run states. Last year, Democrats attempted no less than three times to pass legislation overturning the new state election laws, which the GOP call election security measures such as voter ID requirements and restrictions on mail-in ballots.
While the Democrats’ efforts garnered unanimous support within their party, the bills failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster. Instead of giving up the fight, Democrats began angling to use the so-called “nuclear option” to blow up the filibuster.
That push became moot when Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin rejected the idea of gutting the filibuster. Both lawmakers say the 60-vote threshold is key to protecting “checks and balances” within the U.S. government.
“Think if you have a situation that we have right now, where you have the executive branch of government and you have Congress — they’re all the same party,” Mr. Manchin said. “There [are] no checks and balances because you sweep right through. And the same thing could happen if Republicans control everything.”
Democrats fail to see the situation that way, however.
“They don’t care about minorities. They don’t care about Blacks. They don’t care about people in their own districts who they’re going to deny their voting rights and undermine their voting rights,” Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, fumed on MSNBC this weekend.