Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer pledged Tuesday to hold a vote on changing the filibuster rules to require that lawmakers speak continuously on the floor to block the passage of legislation.
Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the change was needed to help secure passage of President Biden’s partisan rewrite of the nation’s voting laws.
“If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote.”
The new tactic is all but doomed with only one Democratic no-vote needed to kill it.
The change being pushed by Mr. Schumer would require lawmakers to mount an old-fashioned “talking filibuster” to hold up the legislative process.
Under the proposal, senators would need to speak continuously in objection to a bill. Under the proposed new rules, once the speechmaking is exhausted, the legislation could pass with a simple majority vote.
At the moment, lawmakers are allowed to merely object to ending debate, forcing leaders to round up the 60 votes to keep the legislation alive.
“I’ve said for months the best way to restore the Senate — to make it work better and to make it work in a way that approaches what it used to be — is to have virtually unlimited time to speak for or against a bill … and a lot of amendments,” said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat. “But you shouldn’t on top of that [have to] get 60 votes.”
At least one prominent Democratic swing vote, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, disagrees. He said that a talking filibuster would be useless without the 60-vote threshold required to end debate.
“I love the talking filibuster, I think we should be transparent about how we do business here or the lack of doing business,” Mr. Manchin said Tuesday. “In the history of our country, there has never been a simple majority vote to [end] debate … I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule, we’ve never done this.”
Given Mr. Manchin’s opposition, the effort faces long odds. For any rules change to succeed the unanimous support of all 50 Senate Democrats is needed within the evenly split chamber.
Mr. Schumer, himself, admitted as much when announcing the proposal on Tuesday. Despite the effort likely being futile, Mr. Schumer said it was part of a bigger push for the “cause of justice.”
“This process today is another step forward in the march to voting rights,” said Mr. Schumer. “We ain’t giving up. And to anyone who says, ‘Oh, well, you may not win, don’t do it,’ look at history … this is too important.”
Democratic leaders plan to hold a vote on changing the Senate’s rules later this week after Mr. Biden’s voting measures are defeated as soon as Wednesday with an expected GOP filibuster.
Initially, Democrats planned either to push for changing the rules to abolish the filibuster outright or create a one-time carveout for the White House’s plan for election legislation. That plan was scrapped when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, came out in opposition.
“There is no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation,” said Ms. Sinema. “Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party-line [vote], with the thinnest possible majorities, to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office.”
With Mr. Schumer’s conference fractured on the topic, lawmakers struggled to find an alternative. They eventually settled upon the talking filibuster because it seemed the most likely to garner the support of wayward moderates like Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema.
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 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.
“State legislatures are moving aggressively to suppress the vote and to impose extreme gerrymandering among many other things,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent. “And anybody who believes in American democracy has got to vote to enable us to go forward … to suspend the filibuster, at least on this vote.”