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'Five-alarm fire': Liberals use Jan. 6 panel blockade as rallying cry to abolish filibuster

More than 100 advocacy groups sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for elimination of the 60-vote threshold.
Image: Senate Leader Schumer
Chuck Schumer speaks to the press following a Democratic caucus meeting on May 25, 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — More than 100 liberal groups are urging Senate Democrats to abolish the 60-vote threshold, using the Republican blockade of a commission to investigate the Capitol riot as a rallying cry.

"In the face of Republicans' inability and unwillingness to defend our democracy, it is clearer than ever that the filibuster needs to be eliminated," reads a letter dated Thursday, led by Fix Our Senate and co-signed by Indivisible, March For Our Lives, Our Revolution, the Sierra Club and other groups.

Although the letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the real targets are Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two most outspoken proponents of the filibuster in the party.

The letter cites Manchin's recent remarks that the GOP move to block the creation of a Jan. 6 commission was "disheartening" and concerning for the country. And it calls for passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping bill to guarantee voting procedures like 15 days of early voting and mail-in ballots in all states.

Schumer plans to bring up the bill in the coming weeks, along with others, like the Paycheck Fairness Act and possibly LGBTQ rights legislation, which are likely to be blocked by filibusters. They will test the Democratic resolve to preserve the supermajority rule.

"These next two months are going to be absolutely critical," said former Senate leadership aide Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Fix Our Senate. "This is truly a five-alarm fire. Democrats have to make the fundamental choice: Are they going to protect the filibuster or are they going to protect voting rights?"

The liberals have a tough road ahead: Manchin has given no indication that the filibuster of the bill to create a Jan. 6 commission will motivate him to nuke the 60-vote threshold. Sinema defended the filibuster this week, saying the solution to a failing Senate is to "change your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules."

Even with slim Democratic margins in Congress, President Joe Biden's runway to pass his agenda would vastly expand if the Senate turned into a majority-rule body like the House. The Senate is split 50-50, with control hinging on the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, and it needs at least 10 Republican votes to advance most legislation.

Abolishing the filibuster would require the votes of all 50 Democratic members. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a staunch proponent of the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.

The groups in the letter represent causes like protecting the environment, gender equality, gun control and raising the minimum wage, illustrating the breadth of liberal priorities they believe are threatened by the 60-vote threshold.

They have wanted to abolish the filibuster for some time. Now, they see the failure of the effort to create a Jan. 6 commission as a way to press their case.

"That Republicans could not even support a bipartisan investigation into a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol reflects dangerously misplaced priorities: They have chosen party over country, obstruction over progress, and Trump over democracy," the liberal groups said in the letter.