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Schumer plans Senate rules vote to require 'talking filibuster' for voting bills

The attempt to change the rules is expected to fail Wednesday because Democrats are not united in the effort.
Image: 36th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks Monday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote on changing the rules to impose a "talking filibuster" for voting legislation if Republicans block two bills slated for consideration, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

"If the Republicans block cloture on the legislation before us, I will put forward a proposal to change the rules to allow for a talking filibuster on this legislation, as recommended by a number of colleagues," Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters after a Democratic caucus meeting.

"There's broad, strong feeling in our caucus about that," he said, flanked by colleagues who are pushing for passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday night on ending debate on the two bills. That vote is expected to fail due to GOP opposition, a move that will prompt Democrats to attempt to change the rules later that evening with a simple majority, according to a leadership aide.

The new rule would shift the onus away from a Senate majority to find 60 votes to advance the legislation and toward the minority to hold the floor and talk continuously to block bills.

Under the proposal, which would only apply to the two bills at issue, Schumer said once the minority stops talking, "the debate will have run its course and the Senate will move to vote on final passage at a majority threshold."

Changing the rules would require the support of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus, and they don't appear to have unanimous support heading into Wednesday's showdown.

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., quickly expressed resistance to the rule change idea as it was circulating Tuesday.

"I love the talking filibuster," Manchin said, before adding that he doesn't support a majority-vote threshold to end debate on legislation. "There’s never been a simple majority vote to basically get off of a debate."

He also suggested he opposed using the so-called nuclear option to change the rules with a simple majority, which is the only path Democrats have, as they face unanimous Republican opposition.

"I've been very clear about that. I just don't know how you break a rule to make a rule," Manchin said. "The majority of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus, they’ve changed their mind. I respect that. ... I haven’t. I hope they respect that, too. I’ve never changed my mind on the filibuster."

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has also championed the 60-vote threshold and resisted calls from her party to change the Senate rules.

"The vast majority of our caucus strongly disagree with Sens. Manchin and Sinema on rules changes," Schumer said Tuesday.

Asked about what this means for Manchin and Sinema when they're next up for re-election, Schumer responded, "I'm not getting into the politics."

Sinema was not present at Tuesday's meeting but dialed in by phone on her way back to Washington, one source said. Manchin spoke during the meeting and argued about the history of the filibuster, two sources familiar with the meeting said.

Schumer said Republicans must "come down on the floor to defend their opposition" to the two bills.

"If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed," he said.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said: "I want a talking filibuster. I saw 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' as a young man. I think that should be the Senate that we have."

Before the meeting, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., acknowledged that Sinema and Manchin did not appear to be on board with a filibuster change.

"We are divided, apparently. I hope that I'm wrong, but we're divided on the rules change," he said.

"This debate and this vote have that historic value," he said. "It really gets to the heart of who we are as a nation, and I think members should be on the record."