WASHINGTON — Nearly a year after the Jan. 6 attack, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on his Democratic colleagues Monday to do whatever it takes to pass voting and election laws to "save our democracy."
"Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness — an effort to delegitimize our election process, and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration — they will be the new norm," Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a letter to senators as the Senate returned after recess.
The letter, which comes three days before the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, represents a growing drumbeat of pressure from Schumer to establish new rules to override a Republican filibuster, at least for the purpose of overhauling election laws.
He said the Senate will seek bipartisan support for legislation but promised consideration of rule changes "on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day," to enable passage with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes required under existing order.
That may be difficult, even with just a simple majority.
In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats have a majority to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would set ballot access guarantees in all 50 states and crack down on states with histories of discrimination. But they don't have the 50 votes needed to change the rules, with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., being two vocal holdouts.
As a result, the path remains murky for new voting or election laws, which congressional Republicans overwhelmingly oppose. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has argued that states should be able to set their own rules and that Congress shouldn't intervene.
Schumer's letter indicates that he intends to put all senators on the record in a floor vote.
"Much like the violent insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol nearly one year ago, Republican officials in states across the country have seized on the former president’s Big Lie about widespread voter fraud to enact anti-democratic legislation and seize control of typically non-partisan election administration functions," Schumer said in the letter.
He added that if states can impose voting laws by simple majority votes, the Senate should be able to, too.
"We must adapt," he said. "The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before."