Schumer calls for Senate rules change if GOP filibusters voting rights legislation

The Senate should "restore the vision of extended debate where every senator is heard but no senator has a veto," said Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Updated: January 4, 2022 - 11:30pm

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said changing Senate rules is an "uphill fight" but he hopes 50 Democrats can come to an agreement if the GOP blocks voting rights bills in the 50-50 Senate.

"We want to reform the Senate, but that is something that should take some discussion maybe in a bipartisan way, but we cannot hold up voting rights until people come to a conclusion, if ever, on that reform," Schumer said on Tuesday. "We are engaged in active discussions right now."

Schumer said the Democrat-led Senate will soon vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and if the GOP uses the filibuster to block the legislation, he will bring a rules change to the floor for a vote by Jan. 17.

"If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster to prevent this body from acting, then the Senate must adapt as it has before," he said. "Changing the rules, there's nothing new."

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klochuchar said the caucus is not considering eliminating the legislative filibuster altogether but instead changing the rules so bills dealing with major issues such as voting can be debated without delay.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley said the Senate should "restore the vision of extended debate where every senator is heard but no senator has a veto so we can address the most important issue to the public: protection of the ballot box."

Schumer said he doesn't want to give anyone the "illusion" that the Democratic caucus is in agreement on a rule change with regard to the legislative filibuster.

"Hopefully we can get 50 of us to come to an agreement," he said.

California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla connected the voting rights legislation to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Padilla said the U.S. Congress should make sure an "insurrection" to interrupt the peaceful transition of power doesn't happen again.

"It is with that perspective, and it is with that passion that I say if we need to change some rules in the Senate to make it so, then that's what we need to do," he said. "The stakes are too high."

In the past, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has opposed eliminating the legislative filibuster to pass voting rights or election reform legislation. 

On Tuesday, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin expressed reluctance to change the Senate rules in a partisan way.

Schumer also said that the White House is engaged in ongoing discussions with Manchin about the Build Back Better Act. Manchin recently announced that he opposes the bill, which Democratic leaders were seeking to pass with budget reconciliation. 

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