Joe Biden is telling Democratic leaders in the House and Senate that he will lean on moderate Democrats in order to force passage of change to the Senate’s filibuster. He will also lobby hard to pass the voting rights bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants to vote on this week.
Biden and the Democrats want a “carve-out” for the electoral power grab known as the “For the People Act.” It would allegedly be a one-time exception to the filibuster and allow for a straight up-or-down vote on the bill, which Democrats mischaracterize as a “voting rights” bill.
Both Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have publicly come out against altering the filibuster and both have expressed doubts about the voter bill without substantial changes. But Biden apparently believes his powers of persuasion will work on them and other centrist Democrats.
“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”
A White House spokesman declined to comment on any private conversations between Biden and congressional leaders. The official said that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been “deeply involved” with the push to pass new voting protections. “The president and vice president have been very clear that this is a crucial priority and senior White House staff across many departments are constantly working on it,” the official said.
Manchin will be a tough nut for Biden to crack. The West Virginia senator has been adamant about opposing any “tweaks” to the filibuster.
But Biden is apparently going to pull out all the stops and put the screws to Manchin and Sinema as only a president can.
Winning over the two Democrats who’ve declared their opposition to filibuster reform, Sens. Manchin and Sinema, won’t be easy. In April, Manchin wrote in an op-ed that he would not support tweaking or abolishing the filibuster, which he described as a “critical tool” to protect the interests of small and rural states like his. Sinema, for her part, likes to point out how often Democrats used the filibuster when they were in the minority during Donald Trump’s presidency. The filibuster, she wrote in June, “compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.”
Yet Sinema has broadly endorsed the need for voting-rights reforms, and Manchin says “inaction is not an option.”
Congressional aides and anti-corruption activists who support the For the People Act say Schumer’s strategy has been to give Republicans every opportunity to work with Democrats on a compromise bill, and to allow Manchin the space to lead those negotiations, if only to show that Republicans won’t support any version of pro-democracy reform that Democrats come up with.
The “compromise” version of the voting rights bill will be introduced this week. But it won’t pass the Senate without Biden’s “carve-out” of the filibuster. One can imagine Democrats seeking “carve-outs” for other legislation as well unless Manchin and Sinema keep their fingers in the dyke and prevent a flood of radical legislation from passing.