Jan 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Schumer finds loophole to advance elections reform package


Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democratic leaders have found a mechanism to enable them to bypass an initial Republican filibuster and debate the party's sweeping election reform bills, according to a new leadership memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The strategy is the latest example of how Democrats are seeking new ways to try to bypass Senate procedures that are blocking their agenda. But the ultimate outcome will likely be the same: insufficient support to change the 60-vote threshold needed to pass sweeping voting rights reforms.

Driving the news: The House is expected to take up an amendment in the coming days related to NASA leasing “underutilized” property to private groups. Democratic leaders are referring to this as the "shell bill."

  • It will then strip that legislation of its existing language and replace it with the text for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
  • The House would then pass the updated bill and send it to the Senate as a "message." Then, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will file a motion to concur with the House amendment.

Between the lines: This would allow the Senate — for the first time — to quickly take up the bill and debate it on the floor.

  • Up until now, every time Schumer has tried to bring up both election bills, Republicans have blocked it from even being debated by opposing a cloture vote on the motion to proceed.

Worth noting: This wonky process is similar to the strategy Congress used last month to quickly take up and eventually pass a debt limit increase and avoid a default.

Be smart: Regardless of this new tactic, the Senate would still need to lower the 60-vote filibuster in order to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the face of Republicans' total opposition to the bills.

  • But Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are against going nuclear on the filibuster in order to do so, which means the bills will likely fail.
  • The fight over changing or bypassing the filibuster will now take place when Schumer moves to end debate on the legislation.
  • Meetings among key Senate Democrats, Manchin and Sinema are continuing to take place this week on a potential path to changing Senate rules.

What they're saying: "Taking advantage of this existing exception to the Senate’s supermajority requirements will allow us to end the Republicans’ ability to block debate on voting rights legislation," Schumer said in the memo to Senate Democrats.

  • "The Senate will finally debate voting rights legislation, and then every Senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass the legislation to protect our democracy."
  • "Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us — which we know from past experience will not happen — or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before."

What's next: The House is expected to vote on the "shell bill" as early as Thursday, and then the Senate will immediately take up the bill.

  • His goal of voting on a package of Senate rules changes that would allow Democrats to bypass the filibuster and pass voting reforms by or on Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, remains in effect, his team says.
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