Senate fails to change filibuster rules after GOP blocks voting rights bill

By Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:27 AM ET, Thu January 20, 2022
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6:28 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Manchin admonishes Democrats' push to gut filibuster, calling it a "perilous course" for the nation

From CNN's Manu Raju

(Senate TV)
(Senate TV)

In a floor speech that occurred just as President Biden was speaking at his news conference, Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic moderate, reiterated that he would not change the Senate's filibuster rules along straight party lines to let 51 votes advance legislation.

Manchin said he was speaking out against "a great misleading of the American people."

Manchin added: "For the last year, my Democratic colleagues have taken the airwaves, pages of newspapers across the country to argue that (eliminating) the filibuster is restoring the vision of the Founding Fathers intended for this country. That is simply not true."

He later said that "eliminating the filibuster would be easy way out...I cannot support such a perilous course for our nation ... It's time we do the hard work to forge the difficult compromises that can stand the test of time," he said, admonishing his colleagues.

He argued Democrats were trying to "break the rules to change the rules."

He also reiterated what he told CNN earlier: That Schumer shouldn't prematurely shut down debate on the elections and voting bill, saying it should be on the floor for weeks to build support for the bill.

6:26 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Schumer says he’ll put forward "talking filibuster" proposal once GOP blocks Democrats' elections bill

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett 

(Senate TV)
(Senate TV)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave an impassioned floor speech earlier today as the Senate debated voting legislation for the first time in this Congress, and he reiterated that when GOP lawmakers block Democrats’ election legislation from advancing, he will put forward his proposal to allow for a "talking filibuster" on voting legislation.

“As we debate this issue, so critical to the wellspring of our democracy, we will all confront the critical question: Shall members of this chamber do what is necessary to pass these bills and move them to the President's desk? It’s my hope that courage awakens within the heart of our Republican colleagues before the day is out,” he said, adding that if the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, “then the Senate rules must be reformed.”

“Our proposal for a talking filibuster on these pieces of legislation would be the first step towards passing voting rights, restoring this body and breaking the gridlock that we now face on this vital issue,” Schumer continued.

As Schumer spoke, CNN counted about 30 Democrats in the Senate chamber, including the majority leader and Sen. Pat Leahy, who was presiding. No Republicans were in the chamber during his speech. It’s impactful, as Schumer’s daily morning speeches are typically given to an empty chamber. Sen. Joe Manchin, who is set to eventually vote against the nuclear option, was in the chamber, but Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was not.  

Schumer repeated in his remarks that he knows “it’s an uphill fight” to change the Senate rules to pass election legislation as there are some in the caucus who believe the legislative filibuster “helps bring us together.”

He slammed that argument, saying, “I don't see that evidence, evidence of that at all, and I think a majority of my colleagues would agree with that.”

As the two moderate Democrats, Manchin and Sinema, remain opposed to lowering the threshold of the legislative filibuster, the vote to change the Senate rules is expected to fail. 

5:07 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

19 states passed 34 laws that restrict voting in some way in the last year, analysis shows

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

Republicans aligned with former President Trump are pressing ahead at the state level to change voting procedures, conduct partisan investigations of the last presidential contest and seize more control over the machinery of elections.

Democrats and voting rights advocates warn that the unrelenting campaign to cast doubt on the legitimacy of President Biden's 2020 victory over Trump could erode voter confidence in elections and increase the chances that losing candidates and their supporters will challenge the results of free and fair elections in the future.

"Every day that goes by, I am more and more concerned about the direction and resilience of American democracy," said David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research. "I'm worried that we are heading down a path where there are those who cannot accept that ... their candidate could lose."

Recent polling underscores the peril. A CBS News-YouGov poll found that more than six in 10 of Americans said they now expect violence over the loss of future presidential elections. And a separate poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that about one in three Americans think violent action against the government is sometimes justified.

The Post-UMD poll also exposed a stark partisan divide: 40% of Republicans and 41% of Independents said violence against the government could be justified versus 23% of Democrats.

In the last year, 19 states passed 34 laws that restrict voting in some way, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. And more changes are expected as state legislatures convene early this year.

Brennan's analysis found 88 restrictive bills introduced last year will carry over into upcoming legislative sessions, and that 13 new bills had been pre-filed as of last month.

The new proposals include a measure that would ban the use of drop boxes in Georgia — where Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years. An Arizona lawmaker wants to establish stricter voter ID requirements.

Read more about where things stand on voting rights on the state level.

5:29 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Congressional Black Caucus marches to Senate to urge support on filibuster change

From CNN's Lauren Fox

In a show of support for voting rights and changing Senate rules to pass the legislation, House members in the Congressional Black Caucus marched to the Senate, warning that no matter what happens today, they won’t stop fighting to pass it.

“We want the Senate to act today in a favorable way, but if they don’t, we ain’t giving up. I am too young to give up,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, the no.3 House Democrat in the House, told CNN.

CNN asked Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Democrat from Ohio, if she backed primary challenges against moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

“I think today we support voting rights. Today, we want to make sure that 52 senators are asked that question. Today is not about primary races. Today, we came here to singly focus on voting rights and only talk about voting rights,” Beatty said.

12:09 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

What the federal voting proposals being considered in the Senate would do

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

In Texas, it's now a crime for election workers to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request them. In Georgia, most voters who show up at the wrong polling places on Election Day will be turned away -- instead of permitted to cast provisional ballots.

And in Florida, a new law makes it harder for voters to continue receiving ballots by mail and limits the availability of drop boxes.

Measures that Senate Democrats are considering aim to counter these laws and a slew of others passed in Republican-controlled states in the last year.

Among other things, they would make Election Day a federal holiday, set minimum national standards for voting by mail and restore requirements that states seek federal approval for changes to their electoral practices that could harm minority voters.

The chief goal, supporters say: Make it easier for all Americans — regardless of which states they live in — to vote.

But the package of voting measures appears on course to fail in the Senate in the face of unanimous opposition from Republicans, who call it a partisan power grab. And the continued reluctance of two moderate Democratic senators — Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin — to change the Senate's filibuster rules has dimmed hopes of the voting overhaul ever becoming law.

What is under consideration? The Senate plans to consider a measure that combines two preexisting bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

The John Lewis bill, named for the late Georgia congressman, focuses on restoring the power of the federal government to oversee state voting procedures to prevent discrimination against minority voters. A pair of Supreme Court rulings have eroded the key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and this proposal would update the landmark law.

The Freedom to Vote Act is a more sweeping measure that would affect how Americans register to vote and cast their ballots.

In addition to making Election Day a federal holiday, it would:

  • Mandate that states that require voter identification accept a broader range of ID. It also allows a voter to submit a sworn statement from another adult attesting to the voter's identity.
  • Allow voters to use ballot drop boxes, a method popularized in 2020 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. About 41% of people who voted absentee in the 2020 election used drop boxes, according to the Pew Research Center. Lawmakers in several states, including Georgia, Florida and Iowa, have restricted their use. A new Georgia law, for instance, limits the number and location of drop boxes. In populous Fulton County, the number of drop boxes available to voters went from 38 in 2020 to eight in municipal elections last year. And a top Republican in the state has proposed banning their use altogether.
  • Establish nationwide vote-by-mail rules. Voters would not need an excuse — such as illness or travel — to vote by mail. Once voters opt to receive ballots by mail, they would remain on a permanent vote-by-mail list, unless they asked to be removed or were no longer eligible to vote in the state. This provision would counter new laws in states such as Florida, which now requires voters to request mail ballots every general election cycle or roughly every two years.
  • Allow people to register to vote and cast ballots at the same time. Twenty states and Washington, DC, already do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States also would have to make it easier to register to vote online.

Read more about the voting rights proposals here.

5:07 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

McConnell blasts Democrats for using nuclear option that will "destroy the Senate"

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the push by Democrats to use the nuclear option to weaken the legislative filibuster, which they plan to do late Wednesday in order to advance a pair of elections bills opposed by Republicans. 

In a blistering floor speech, that was listened to by most members of the Democratic caucus sitting at their Senate desks, McConnell warned the move would “destroy the Senate” and leave a post-nuclear Senate where cooperation between the parties would plummet. 

McConnell said when President Biden was sworn-in — one year ago tomorrow — he promised to “lower the temperature and bring people together” but now he and Senate Democrats will “try to use fear and panic to smash the Senate, silence millions of Americans, and seize control of our democracy.”

McConnell argued democracy is not threatened as Democrats say and that “more American believe current voting laws are too lax than believe they are too restrictive. So let that sink in. You could have taken in hundreds of hours of left wing rhetoric and media coverage over the past year and had no inkling that was true.”  

Note: A CNN/SSRS poll from September 2021 found that 36% of respondents believe rules around voting make it too difficult for eligible voters to cast ballots while 45% said the rules are not strict enough to prevent illegal votes from being cast.

McConnell said Schumer’s use of the nuclear option would be a “direct assault on the core identity of the Senate” that would “kill the character of the institution he is supposed to protect and serve.” 

He went on: “The legislative filibuster is a central Senate tradition. It is the indispensable feature of our institution. It makes the Senate serve its founding purpose, forging compromise, cooling passions and ensuring that new laws earn broad support from a cross-section of our country.”

12:05 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Key things to know about the Senate's nuclear option

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

As Democrats push to pass voting rights legislation through Congress, there's been talk of using a process known as the "nuclear option."

It's an overheated phrase that boils down to changing Senate rules to pass legislation with a simple majority.

Senators need 60 votes to do just about anything in the Senate but change the rules. That takes only 51 votes.

Nuclear? That sounds harsh for something as simple as a rule change.

Senators view themselves as being part of the "world's greatest deliberative body." It's a debatable point, but in order to protect the minority party and make sure nobody does anything without a full debate, Senate rules require that 60 of 100 senators agree to votes to move toward passing legislation. In the fancy language they speak on Capitol Hill, limiting debate and moving toward a vote is called "invoking cloture."

Actually passing the legislation takes only 51 votes, but because of the procedural rules, it takes 60 to invoke cloture and get to the actual vote. By requiring only 51 votes to limit debate, the entire character of the chamber would change. Instead of being forced to get buy-in from the minority party — Republicans right now — the majority party would be able to pass anything for which it could get a simple majority.

The idea is that it would figuratively "blow up" the Senate. For now, a simple majority Senate excites many Democrats who want to pass more legislation. It frightens Republicans whose strategy is to grind things on Capitol Hill to a halt.

The symbolism of "going nuclear" portends a sort of mutually assured destruction in the future, to borrow another Cold War term. Democrats won't always control the Senate. And when Republicans are in charge, you can bet they'll return the favor.

Why is all this coming to a head now? More and more Democrats support doing away with the filibuster, at least in some circumstances. Already, most major legislation — tax cuts during the Trump administration and health care during the Obama administration — required finding a way around filibuster rules. In those two cases, party leaders exploited budget rules.

But that's an imperfect solution and would not work for voting rights, the issue over which most Democrats argue it's worth changing rules.

Democrats want to impose new national rules to protect the rights of voters as Republicans in key states scramble to limit access to mail-in voting and otherwise make it more difficult to cast a ballot.

But the consequences of going nuclear would extend beyond voting rights. You can't go back from the nuclear option. That's why more moderate Democrats, like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, aren't yet on board with pushing the nuclear button.

5:45 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Clyburn says he's not giving up on voting rights legislation bills yet

From CNN's Daniella Diaz and Chandelis Duster

House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Sunday he does not think two key pieces of voting rights legislation the Senate will take up this week are dead — yet.

"They may be on life support," he told CNN's Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union." "But, you know, John Lewis, others, did not give up after the '64 Civil Rights Act ... So I'm going to tell everybody, we're not giving up."

When asked about moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema saying a filibuster carve-out for voting rights could cause even harsher voter restrictions in the future by Republicans, Clyburn said he did not agree with her.

"No, she's not right about that," he said. "We just got around the filibuster to raise the debt limit. Why? Because we don't put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. No one has asked her to eliminate the filibuster. The filibuster is there for all of these issues that may be policy issues. But when it comes to the Constitution of the United States of America, no one person sitting down ... ought to be able to pick up the telephone and say you are going to put a hold on my ability to vote. And that's what's going on here.

He added: "If we do not protect the vote with everything that we've got, we will not have a country to protect going forward."

Read more here.