Republicans issued a stern warning to President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats on Tuesday: change the Senate rules at your own risk.
Mr. Biden endorsed changes to the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to advance legislation, on Tuesday, so that only a simple majority of votes would be required to pass two pieces of voting rights legislation that have been a top priority for national Democrats.
“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules in whatever way is necessary to prevent a minority of senators from blocking voting rights actions,” Mr. Biden said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of “trying to bully his own members into breaking their word, breaking the Senate, and silencing the voices of millions of citizens so that one political party can take over our nation’s elections from the top down” ahead of Mr. Biden’s visit to Georgia.
McConnell also issued a stern warning to Democrats who continue to push for the rule change.
“If my colleague tries to break the Senate to silence those millions of Americans,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday, “we will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House than anything anyone has seen in living memory.”
Senate Republicans contended on Tuesday that changing Senate rules would fundamentally alter the institution.
“This is about more than one issue,” West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said. “This is about fundamentally changing the fabric, the fence that the Senate provides by having the filibuster in place to ensure that we don’t have dramatic swings from administration to administration, from majority to minority, [from] Republican to Democratic, and that we keep the ship sort of going in the right direction while working together.”
Florida Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said he would be eager to force vulnerable incumbent Democrats to vote on issues such as immigration, law enforcement funding, Afghanistan withdrawal, and education.
Schumer stated on Tuesday that the Senate will act on voting rights legislation “as soon as [Wednesday].” He warned that if Republicans continue to obstruct voting rights and election reform legislation, such as the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Senate will consider “the necessary steps” to move the bills forward. It is unclear what kinds of rule changes will be put to a vote.
“If Republicans continue to hijack Senate rules to prevent voting rights from being realized, if they continue to paralyze this chamber to the point where we’re helpless to fight back against the Big Lie,” Schumer added, “we must consider the necessary steps we can take so the Senate can adapt and act.”
However, it is difficult to see how the majority leader will be able to move the legislation forward. Changing the Senate filibuster rules will require the votes of every single Democrat, and two of them, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have repeatedly stated their opposition to major changes to the rule.
Georgia has a long history of voting rights battles and has recently become a hotly contested political battleground.
Mr. Biden won the state by a narrow margin in 2020, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1992. Two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates’ victories in January 2021 gave Democrats control of the Senate. Georgia lawmakers overhauled the state’s election laws last year. The Department of Justice is one of the plaintiffs in lawsuits filed against Georgia’s new law.
According to the progressive Brennan Center for Justice, Georgia is one of at least 19 states that have passed legislation restricting voting access in 2021. Dozens of similar bills have been carried over into the 2022 legislative sessions or have been introduced in advance of those sessions.
Mr. Biden and Democrats have argued that those laws increase the urgency to set federal standards over early voting, mail voting and voter ID and to restore the Justice Department’s ability to approve changes to election laws in states with a history of discrimination.