Senators watch as Democrats debate changing filibuster rules


WASHINGTON (AP) – A decision weighing on Senate Democrats this year could fundamentally change Congress: alter or eliminate filibuster rules to enact President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Liberal supporters pushed for change, urging the Senate to change or eliminate rules that now require a vote of 60 of 100 senators to move most bills forward. Many Democrats agree, saying Republicans are determined to block almost every one of their Senate priorities at 50-50, even if Democrats hold Congress and the Presidency. But other party members are wary, fearing this will end bipartisanship in the Senate.
Still, most skeptical Democratic senators say they’re ultimately open to some rule changes if Republicans don’t negotiate their key political goals, especially legislation – filibustered by Republicans last week – which reorganize the elections and facilitate voting. .
The two biggest Democratic obstacles to filibuster changes so far are Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have reiterated their opposition in recent weeks. A simple majority can change the rules of the Senate, but getting the 50 Democrats to agree could prove difficult.
Changes won’t come easily, and it could take months or more before Democrats decide what to do.
Some senators to watch as Democrats mull over a big vote:
Manchin has been an advocate of filibuster for many years, and he stands by that position as many of his Senate colleagues have changed their minds on the issue. Manchin said in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month that he couldn’t explain to voters in his increasingly GOP-dominated state why he was “blowing up Senate rules for accelerate a party’s program ”.
Still, he hasn’t completely ruled out changes. Earlier this year, he suggested it could be open to “filibuster”, forcing senators to slow down a bill by keeping the floor, but then granting a simple majority vote if they give up. It is not known whether other senators would be open to this option, and adopting it could prove complicated.
Sinema said it was time to debate the legislative filibuster. But she also made a compelling argument against his elimination.
Barely elected in 2018 to represent her swing state, Sinema vowed to be independent in mind and to work with Republicans. She wrote in a Washington Post editorial this month that bipartisan cooperation is the best way to achieve lasting results and that removing the filibuster would allow temporary victories that would be constantly reversed when the other side would take power.
She said removing the filibuster could increase “the likelihood of repeated sweeping federal policy reversals, cementing uncertainty, deepening divisions and further eroding American confidence in our government.”
Carper, a 20-year Senate veteran, has been hesitant to consider ending the filibuster and has repeatedly pointed to bipartisan successes in arguing for its retention. But he said in an Associated Press interview Thursday that “it could be an option.”
Carper said senators should not be able to “phone” when they want to block a bill, as they can now. Senators should be forced to “stand there and filibuster,” he said.
For now, he says, he is following negotiations on the electoral bill to see if there can be a compromise. But he says if something “so important” ends up falling apart, “and we are unable to make progress on better ensuring the ability of people to vote and register to vote,” then the Senate may have to change the rules.
“But it wouldn’t be my first option, it would be my last option,” Carper said. “But that could be an option.”
Coons has made a name for himself by extolling bipartisanship, even though he rarely defends his party.
In recent interviews, he has argued both sides of the filibuster issue.
He told NPR last week that “we need to strike a balance” and noted that Republicans did not change legislative rules on filibuster when they controlled Congress and the presidency just four years ago. years.
But, he said, “I won’t be supporting this whole Congress and looking at President Biden’s stuck agenda, so I think this is an important decision-making moment for Republicans.”
One of the quieter and more policy-oriented members of the Senate, Reed said very little about the filibuster rules. In a statement, he was not fully open on the issue, but hinted that he agreed with other Democrats who said it was a last resort.
“I am focusing on the passage by the Senate of legislation that deals with the pandemic, the economy, our defense and our environment,” he said. “The responsibility lies with Senate Minority Leader (Mitch) McConnell. It can either be a constructive part of that effort or create a wall of partisan obstruction and further threaten Senate traditions. “
Kelly, who won a special election to replace the late Senator John McCain in 2020, is set to stand for re-election in 2022 and will face inevitable comparisons to Sinema.
He told NBC News last week that he is open to any rule changes and ultimately will make a decision based on what’s in the best interests of Arizona and the country. “And I’m not looking for something that’s in the best interests of Democrats alone,” he said.
Feinstein, who has served in the Senate for nearly three decades, has long been a champion of bipartisanship and has opposed the elimination of filibuster. But that doesn’t match his deep blue state.
In recent comments, she said she may be open to changes.
“I have received many calls and letters from constituents and groups frustrated by the Senate’s lack of action on important issues, and I agree with them,” she said in a statement. “I understand their concern and think about it a lot. I look forward to continuing discussions with my colleagues on how to solve the problems of the American people. “
Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor who often works across the aisle, said on a New Hampshire radio show Friday morning that she thought the filibuster should be reformed, but ” I have reservations about its elimination “. She did not say which reforms she favors.
“Everything from reproductive rights to education support to health care would be at stake if we removed the filibuster completely,” Shaheen said. “So I think we really need to think about it. “
King, a former independent governor of Maine who meets with Democrats, said Thursday that “I have not given up” hope that Democrats and Republicans can find a compromise on the major issues.
In an editorial published in the Washington Post in March, King said he had long been reluctant to change the rules for filibuster. “The reality is that once the filibuster is gone, it will never come back,” he wrote. “Why would a future majority impose such a limitation on its own power? “
Yet, he said, it only works if Republicans are prepared to strike a deal on the filibuster. And he said voting rights are a “special case” as many GOP-led states have decided to change voting laws.
“Total opposition to reasonable protections of voting rights cannot be enabled by systematic obstruction; if I’m forced to choose between a Senate rule and democracy itself, I know where I’m going to get off, ”King wrote.

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