One of the most powerful Democrats in Washington has issued a frank warning to members of his own party, saying they need to find a way to pass major voting rights legislation or they will lose control of Congress.
The comments from Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, came days after the House of Representatives approved a sweeping voting rights bill that would enact some of the most dramatic expansions of the right to vote since the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Even though Democrats also control the US Senate, the bill is unlikely to pass the chamber because of a procedural rule, the filibuster, that requires 60 votes to advance legislation.
In an interview with the Guardian this week, Clyburn called out two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have opposed getting rid of the filibuster. Republicans across the country are advancing sweeping measures to curtail voting rights and letting expansive voting rights legislation die would harm Democrats, Clyburn said.
“There’s no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights. That just ain’t gonna happen. That would be catastrophic,” he said. “If Manchin and Sinema enjoy being in the majority, they had better figure out a way to get around the filibuster when it comes to voting and civil rights.”
Clyburn issued that warning ahead of the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the day in 1965 when law enforcement officers brutally beat voting rights activists in Selma, Alabama.
Clyburn and other House Democrats have been hoping the early days of Joe Biden’s administration will be marked by passage of a bill named after the late congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights hero who was nearly killed on Bloody Sunday. That measure would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, gutted by the supreme court in 2013, that required places with a history of voting discrimination to get election changes cleared by the federal government before they took effect.
“Here we are talking about the Voting Rights Act he worked so hard for and that’s named in his honor and they’re going to filibuster it to death? That ain’t gonna happen,” Clyburn said.
Manchin (D-W.Va.) has previously supported efforts to require senators to filibuster by talking on the chamber floor in order to hold up a bill, an idea he raised on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk,” Manchin said. “I'm willing to look at any way we can, but I'm not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.”
However, Manchin did not rule out using the budget reconciliation process to pass a voting rights bill with a simple majority, keeping the door open to a potential workaround for Democrats to push through a voting overhaul while preserving the filibuster. The House on Wednesday narrowly passed a sweeping package of election-related reforms, a proposal they've given the symbolically important designation of H.R. 1.
It's not clear how Manchin envisioned that H.R. 1 could potentially be passed through reconciliation, as it is not budget-related, and Democrats' proposed minimum wage increase was tripped up by the process' strict rules and left on the cutting-room floor.
But Manchin said Democrats need to meaningfully engage with Republicans before going down that path, which they utilized late last week to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package without a single GOP Senate vote.
“I'm not willing to go into reconciliation until we at least get bipartisanship or get working together or allow the Senate to do its job,” Manchin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”