Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is pressing for a floor vote on voting rights legislation next week but will face a difficult decision if Senate Republicans uniformly oppose the bill as expected.
The Freedom to Vote Act would, among other things, ensure that states have early voting, make Election Day a public holiday and strengthen the availability of mail-in voting. Republican lawmakers consider the bill a form of federal overreach and Schumer is unlikely to get 60 votes for the bill.
Schumer told Democratic colleagues earlier this week that the Senate will vote on changing the filibuster rules or carving out an exception for voting rights legislation by Jan. 17 if Republicans again block the bill.
“We must adapt,” Schumer said in a Dear Colleague letter Jan. 3. “The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before. As former Senator Robert Byrd famously said, Senate Rules ‘must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.’ Put more plainly by Senator Byrd, ‘Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past.’”
Schumer is vigorously pushing the bill as necessary reform to combat voting changes enacted in Republican-led states but at least two Democratic senators – Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) – oppose changing the filibuster without bipartisan support.
“For us to go it alone, no matter what side does it, it just ends up coming back at you pretty hard,” Manchin told reporters this week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asserted that state-enacted laws do not make it more difficult to vote and that Democrats are trying to “appoint themselves a nationwide board of elections on steroids.”
Congress is getting some outside pressure as well to pass voting rights legislation. The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a letter this week signed by more than 140 mayors of both parties urging the Senate to pass a voting rights bill.
“Just as we needed to extend the debt limit to avoid economic calamity, we need to pass federal democracy and voting legislation to safeguard our democracy,” the letter reads. “And just as you had earlier been prepared to recognize that the U.S. economy is more important than the filibuster, we urge you to make a similar assessment when it comes to our democracy and our right to vote.”