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Schumer says Senate will vote on ending the filibuster, puts pressure on Manchin to change his mind

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Democrats are ramping up pressure on Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to support a change in Senate rules that would end the 60-vote filibuster requirement to pass a sweeping federal overhaul of U.S. elections and President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that a group of lawmakers would be meeting with Manchin to discuss options for killing the filibuster. He told CNN that Democrats were in discussions with the moderate holdouts throughout the holidays, lobbying them to change their position on the filibuster so they can ram through their agenda this year before the midterm elections in November.

"The bottom line is this: They must allow us to pass these two vital pieces of legislation, even if not a single Republican joins us," Schumer said, according to Reuters.

On Monday, the Democratic leader sent a letter to his colleagues announcing that the Senate will "debate and consider changes to Senate rules" if Republicans invoke the filibuster to block a Democratic election overhaul bill. The Freedom to Vote Act would override election integrity measures enacted by various Republican-controlled state legislatures, automatically register citizens to vote, and significantly expand early and mail-in voting.

Democrats say these reforms are necessary to protect the right to vote and democracy in America. Republicans say the bill would weaken voter ID laws, create new opportunities for election fraud, and unconstitutionally revoke the power of states to determine their own election laws. The Senate GOP conference is united in opposition to the bill, depriving Democrats of the 60 votes they need to overcome a legislative filibuster.

"Over the coming weeks, the Senate will once again consider how to perfect this union and confront the historic challenges facing our democracy," Schumer wrote in his letter. "We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us. But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections."

Schumer's letter referred to the upcoming anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, linking the effort by former President Donald Trump to have Congress invalidate Biden's electoral victory in several states to the violence on that day and subsequent efforts by GOP-majority state legislatures to tighten election rules.

"Make no mistake about it: this week Senate Democrats will make clear that what happened on January 6th and the one-sided, partisan actions being taken by Republican-led state legislatures across the country are directly linked, and we can and must take strong action to stop this anti-democratic march," Schumer wrote.

He directly called for an end to the legislative filibuster, declaring, "The weaponization of rules once meant to short-circuit obstruction have been hijacked to guarantee obstruction."

It's a far cry from Schumer's position in 2005, when he denounced attempts to end the filibuster as a "doomsday for democracy."

In 2005, Schumer Said Eliminating the Filibuster Would “Be A Doomsday For Democracy”www.youtube.com

Schumer may hem and haw about the filibuster as much as he likes, but as long as Democrats require 51 votes to change the Senate's rules, Democrats are at the mercy of both Manchin and Sinema, who have each repeatedly reiterated their opposition to killing the filibuster.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Manchin softly criticized the idea of creating a one-time exception to the filibuster to pass the election overhaul bill.

"Any time there's a carve-out, you eat the whole turkey. There's nothing left," Manchin said.

He went on to say he supports the goal of the Freedom to Vote act, but also wants to preserve the institution of the Senate.

"I just believe that a bedrock of democracy is voting and we have to do what we can in order to preserve that. But let's just see. Conversations are still ongoing," he added.

Manchin did say Democrats have discussed several options for changing the filibuster, including changing the way senators may invoke a filibuster or requiring that the opposition continuously hold the floor with speeches to keep a filibuster going, as seen in the 1939 film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

"The need for us to protect democracy as we know it and the Senate as it has operated for 232 years are extremely, extremely high bars that we must be very careful if we're willing to cross those. So I'm talking, I'm not agreeing to any of this to an extent. I want to talk and see all the options we have open," he said.

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