With voting rights legislation facing a tough, if not impossible vote this week in the Senate, Democrats are considering a Hail Mary pass to try to save the bill from GOP destruction.
Senate Democrats are scrambling for a Plan B to pass voting rights legislation after Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced last week that they would not vote to change the Senate’s filibuster rule despite the pleading of President Biden.
Now some Democrats are discussing a novel approach to circumventing a Republican filibuster that may allow voting rights legislation to pass with 51 votes without changing the Senate’s rules.
These Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), are exploring the possibility of forcing Senate Republicans to actually hold the floor with speeches and procedural motions.
They hope that the Republican opposition may tire itself out after a few days or weeks and that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) may be able to then call for a simple-majority vote on final passage and skip the formal procedural vote — known as cloture — on ending debate.
"There are a couple of paths here. Do we go down the path and do a long debate until it's done and then have a simple debate?" Kaine told reporters last week.
"We wouldn't need a rules change to pass the bill by simple majority if the debate is over. Theoretically, you do not need a rules change to pass a bill that's on the floor, you just have to allow debate to occur," he added.
The strategy has gained more attention from Senate Democrats in recent days as it’s become crystal clear that Sinema and Manchin won’t vote for a more straightforward rules change to lowering the procedural threshold for ending a filibuster from 60 votes to 50.
A second Democratic senator confirmed that colleagues are reviewing the idea of forcing Republicans to stage a talking filibuster to block voting rights legislation.
“We’ve discussed it,” said the lawmaker, who explained that if Republicans don’t occupy the floor with speeches and procedural motions, voting rights legislation should be allowed to come up for final passage under the Senate’s rules.
The problem with this approach, according to Democrats familiar with the discussion, is that it hasn’t been attempted in decades and no one is quite sure how it would play out procedurally.
Cloture votes to end debate in the Senate have become so routine that it’s become second nature to expect the floor is being tied up in debate when a controversial bill is pending.
More often, the floor is usually empty or has only a few members milling about while the clerk reads off the roll of senators’ names during a quorum call.
James Wallner, a former Senate Republican aide and expert on Senate procedure, says that Democrats could pass voting rights legislation with a simple-majority vote if they’re willing to put up with a lengthy battle on the floor.
“Democrats don’t need 60 votes at all. They’re in 51-vote territory. They can move to table any amendments that Republicans offer to the bill,” he said.
The two problems are of course "would the Dems be able to outlast the GOP on this?" and "WHo would be the 51st vote". The second question has an answer at least: VP Kamala Harris, who would have to be on hand for the entire battle.
But can the Dems pull this off? I don't know. I do know that right now, the bill is 100% doomed.
It's worth a shot.