Nancy Pelosi says the House will pass a bill combining both of Congress's voting rights measures TODAY as Biden heads to Capitol Hill to convince Manchin and Senate Democrats to get on board
The House of Representatives will vote on election reform legislation that combines previous versions written up in the House and Senate on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues in a letter last night.
On Thursday afternoon President Joe Biden is heading to the United States Capitol to convince all 50 Democrats in the upper chamber - including moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema - to back it, along with trying to gin up support to eliminate the filibuster so the measure could pass with just a simple majority.
Senator Manchin has repeatedly said he won't back changing Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation and bypass working with Republicans.
Biden will try and change his mind when he has a lunch with the Democratic Caucus today. President Obama has also thrown his support behind Biden's plans and called the filibuster a relic of the Jim Crow era.
The bill Pelosi hopes to pass combines the House's John R. Lewis Act and the Senate's Freedom to Vote Act.
A procedural vote for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act was held in the House on Wednesday evening and passed 220 - 201 along party lines, allowing it to come to the floor today.
'President Biden made it crystal clear that the Senate must find a path forward to enshrine critical voting rights legislation into law,' Pelosi said in her letter, adding that the House moving it forward quickly would get it before the Senate 'for urgent consideration.'
Pelosi will then send the bill to the Senate as a 'message,' allowing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring it to the floor for debate while side-stepping a Republican filibuster attempt.
The John R. Lewis Act, which previously passed the House by itself in August, was aimed to restore key provisions of the Voting Right Act of 1965 that had been gutted by the Supreme Court and change the way election cases are handled in federal courts.
The Freedom to Vote Act would reverse election security enhancements passed by dozens of GOP-dominated legislatures last year and introduce a new federal standard for voting laws, including expansions to mail-in voting and early voting.
Biden delivered an impassioned defense of voting rights in Georgia on Tuesday. The Peach State was one of 19 with GOP-held legislatures to pass bills last year enhancing election security. Critics say they suppress the right to vote.
Republicans included Mitch McConnell tore into his speech for being 'divisive' and accused him of labelling millions of Americans as 'domestic enemies'.
In his first op-ed since since leaving the White House, Barack Obama said he backed Biden wanting to change the Senate rules and called the filibuster a relic of the Jim Crow era.
He wrote in USA Today that the filibuster has 'no basis in the constitution' and has been used by Republicans in the past to obstruct civil rights legislation.
'In recent years, the filibuster became a routine way for the Senate minority to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters. But we can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy,' Obama said.
'That's why I fully support President Joe Biden’s call to modify Senate rules as necessary to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote. And every American who cares about the survival of our most cherished institutions should support the president’s call as well.'
Biden criticized those bills as 'undemocratic.'
Congressional leaders are attempting to press ahead on what appears to be an uphill battle for the majority party to pass voter reform ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
It's unlikely that Schumer will have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to bypass Republican obstruction in the form of a filibuster.
Instead, he and Biden will lobby Democrats in the upper chamber on Thursday during their caucus lunch, around 1 p.m., to support a change to Senate rules that would allow them to pass it with a simple majority.
But it's proven a challenge with two key centrists, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, so far opposed to scuttling the filibuster.
On the House floor Wednesday night, Pelosi echoed longstanding Democrat concerns that their colleagues across the aisle are weaponizing the Senate stalling tactic.
'When somebody said they're going to filibuster something or they were engaged in a filibuster, you thought they were going to talk for a long time. Filibuster: to talk for a long time. Not to obstruct justice, not to obstruct debate, not to obstruct the majority to be able to take a vote, to discuss something,' she said.
Vice President Kamala Harris also took aim at Republicans opposed to expanded voting access last night, as well as Democrats who are pushing to preserve the filibuster.
'I will not absolve the 50 Republicans in the United States Senate from responsibility, from upholding one of the most basic tenants of our democracy which is free and fair elections and access to the ballot for all eligible voters,' Harris told NBC News on Wednesday.
When asked about Manchin and Sinema, she stood firm.
'I don't think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy especially when they took an oath to protect our Constitution,' Harris said.
Biden's full-throated defense of voting rights and opposition to the filibuster prompted a fierce backlash from Republicans.
Just after the president's speech on Tuesday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney tore into him on the Senate floor for 'dividing' the country and warned Democrats to consider 'what would it mean for them' if they changed Senate rules ahead of the likely event they lose control of Congress at the end of this year.
And on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Biden's speech was 'profoundly unpresidential.'
Why do Biden and the Democrats want to kill the filibuster to pass voting rights?
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the U.S. Senate should consider scrapping a longstanding supermajority rule known as the 'filibuster' if necessary to pass voting-rights legislation that is opposed by Republicans.
It is a surprising move for Biden who defended the rule during his 36 years as a Senator. But he believes the current threat to democracy is so severe Congress needs to pass either the Freedom to Vote Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act without Republican support.
'I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,' he said in his speech in Atlanta. 'Debate them. Vote. Let the majority prevail—and if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.
Critics say the filibuster, which requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation, is an anti-democratic hurdle that prevents Washington from addressing pressing problems.
Supporters say it forces lawmakers to seek consensus, serves as important check on the party in power and ensures that major laws that affect American life don't change radically with every election.
Once a rarity, the filibuster is now routinely invoked. In recent months, Republicans have used it to block voting-rights bills and bring the United States perilously close to a crippling debt default.
Democrats could use their razor-thin Senate majority to eliminate the filibuster altogether.
But centrist Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose this move, saying that it will shatter the few bipartisan bonds that remain and give Republicans free rein if they take a majority in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has warned that his party would use other tactics to bring the chamber to a halt if the filibuster is eliminated.
WHAT IS THE FILIBUSTER? TERM DERIVED FROM CARIBBEAN PIRATES THAT MEANS 'TALKING TO DEATH'
Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate was set up to allow for unlimited debate. In the 19th century, lawmakers developed the filibuster - a word derived from Dutch and Spanish terms for Caribbean pirates - as a way to talk a bill to death.
Then-Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond set the record when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to block a major civil rights bill. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy spoke for nearly 15 hours in 2016 to press for gun-control legislation and Republican Senator Ted Cruz spoke for more than 21 hours in 2013 to protest President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act. None of those efforts were successful.
Senators agreed in 1917 that a vote by a two-thirds majority could end debate on a given bill. That majority was reduced in 1975 to three-fifths of the Senate, currently 60 senators.
Under current rules, senators don't need to talk to gum up the works -- they merely need to register their objection to initiate a filibuster.
Over the past 50 years, the number of filibusters has skyrocketed as Democrats and Republicans have become more politically polarized. From 1969 to 1970 there were six votes to overcome a filibuster, the nearest reliable proxy. There were 298 such votes in the 2019-2020 legislative session.
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM FOR DEMOCRATS?
Democrats control 50 seats in the Senate, which allows them to eke together a majority with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking 51st vote when needed. They can't overcome filibusters unless at least 10 Republicans vote with them.
Democrats were able to bypass the filibuster to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan using a special process known as 'reconciliation' that only requires a simple majority for certain budget bills. But that process is subject to complex limitations and cannot be used regularly.
Republicans have blocked many other Democratic priorities, though 19 of them did vote for a $1 trillion package to revamp the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
CAN THE FILIBUSTER BE CHANGED?
There have already been changes.
In 2013, Democrats removed the 60-vote threshold for voting on most nominees for administration jobs, apart from the Supreme Court, allowing them to advance on a simple majority vote.
In 2017, Republicans did the same thing for Supreme Court nominees. Both the 2013 and 2017 Senate rule changes were made by simple majority votes.
Some Democrats have called for eliminating the filibuster entirely, but they lack the 50 votes needed to take that step.
Democrats plan to vote sometime over the next week to scale back the filibuster so it would not apply to voting-related legislation. But it's not clear whether they have the votes for this either; Manchin said last week that he would prefer to get some Republican buy-in for that change.
On Sunday he said he might support making the tactic more 'painful' by requiring senators to keep talking on the Senate floor.
Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, long supported the filibuster but has grown more open to changing it as Republicans have blocked several of his major initiatives over the past year.