Schumer Sets MLK Day Deadline To Consider Filibuster Changes, Ties Urgency To Jan 6 Anniversary

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the chamber will debate and vote on rule changes to help pass voting rights legislation on or before Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Schumer had said before the holidays that the chamber would redouble its stalled efforts to pass voting rights bills upon its return, and has now tied that push to the one year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process, and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm,” he wrote in a Monday letter to colleagues. 

“Given the urgency of the situation and imminence of the votes, we as Senate Democrats must urge the public in a variety of different ways to impress upon their Senators the importance of acting and reforming the Senate rules, if that becomes a prerequisite for action to save our democracy,” he added.

The obstacles to voting rights reform are the same as they’ve been all term: opposition from every Republican senator (with the possible exception of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act), and insistence from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on preserving the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold. 

Manchin has previously said that he wants Senate rule changes to have Republican support, and Sinema’s spokesperson said as recently as last month that she won’t support lowering the 60-vote requirement. Unless other Democrats have heretofore undiscovered success in swaying the senators from these positions, meaningful filibuster reform — that doesn’t end with a Republican blockade — seems remote.

Democrats’ turn in focus to voting rights from the Build Back Better reconciliation bill just before the holidays seemed more predicated on concerns of the latter’s flailing than the former’s momentum. 

Democratic members, though, have continued efforts to move their recalcitrant colleagues. Some hope that the emotional resonance of the Jan. 6 anniversary will have some effect. Others hope that the glaring dissonance of the chamber having just allowed a filibuster carveout to raise the debt ceiling will underscore its arbitrary nature. 

“We just changed the rules as it relates to the debt limit,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told TPM before recess. “And I think that was important. But if we can do it for markets, we can do it for democracy.”

Read Schumer’s letter here:

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