History-Making Day As Senate Rejects Filibuster Changes
Late Wednesday the Senate rejected a Democratic bid to change the filibuster in order to pass their voting bills over unanimous Republican opposition, ending one of the most significant days in the chamber’s history.
The vote failed 48-52 after Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both voted as they had vowed they would for months, joining a unanimous Republican caucus in opposition and denying their party the necessary support for the change to take effect. If the change had been adopted, it would have established a “talking filibuster” concerning the voting bills only, allowing any senator to speak for or against them for as long as they wanted but lowering the 60-vote threshold for passage to a simple majority.
“What we have now … is not a filibuster,” Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said ahead of the vote. “It doesn’t require any effort. It doesn’t require any speeches. It doesn’t require to hold the floor.”
“Strom Thurmond would have loved this filibuster,” King added, referring to the late segregationist senator who set the record for the longest filibuster speech ever while speaking against the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
The Democrats’ attempt to change Senate rules ended a long day of debating in the chamber with nearly half of the body speaking.
The voting bills failed to gain 60 Senate votes Wednesday night even though Manchin and Sinema voted in favor, prompting Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s motion to change Senate rules to allow them to pass without GOP support.
“For those who believe bipartisanship is possible, we have proven them wrong,” Manchin said ahead of the vote. “Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out. I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country by putting politics and party aside.”
Democrats claim the bills are necessary to counter election reform laws that Republican state legislatures across the country have passed following the 2020 election that suppress people’s ability to vote. As a result, nearly all have endorsed altering the filibuster to ensure their passage even if done on a partisan basis.
“I share with many of you … a vision of the Senate that collaborates and negotiates the most important issue of our time,” Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock said. “I believe in bipartisanship. But at what cost? Who is being asked to foot the bill for this bipartisanship and is liberty itself the cost?”
Republicans have countered, claiming that the federal legislation, which sets uniform voting standards and outlaws partisan gerrymandering, will allow voter fraud and infringe on states’ rights to oversee their own elections.
“The president and his party will try to use fear and panic to smash the Senate, silence millions of Americans, and seize control of our democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday.
McConnell said later that while the day was one of the most consequential in the history of the Senate, it really boiled down to a simple question: “Will it take 60 votes to pass massive changes or a simple majority to ram them through? That’s what’s at stake here.”
Senators did engage in genuine debate throughout the day, but most expressed contempt for how deliberation seemed to have faded from the world’s greatest deliberative body. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican who backed the John Lewis voting bill, said Wednesday that the rhetoric surrounding voting has become very concerning.
“I was part of a very troubling conversation last evening,” she said. “It was shared depending on which side you’re on in this body today on this issue, you’re either a racist or a hypocrite. Really, is that where we are?”
Manchin echoed her later in his speech, criticizing the lack of bipartisanship as he often had throughout his filibuster defenses.
“I don’t know what happened to the good old days,” he said, “but I can’t tell you they aren’t here now.”