Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced late Thursday that the Senate would not reconvene until Jan. 18, scrapping his own deadline to force a vote on changing the legislative filibuster in the face of certain defeat.
Schumer had vowed earlier this month to put any potential rule changes to a vote by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, expectations for a Senate showdown were dashed when Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) reaffirmed their longstanding opposition to messing with the 60-vote requirement.
“Due to circumstances regarding COVID and another potentially hazardous winter storm approaching the DC area this weekend, the Senate will adjourn tonight. However, we will be postponing the recess so the Senate can vote on voting rights,” Schumer said. “We will return on Tuesday to take up the House-passed message containing voting rights legislation.”
The majority leader then insisted that if Senate Republicans “choose obstruction over protecting the sacred right to vote,” there would be a vote on altering or removing the filibuster.
However, there is no guarantee any such vote would actually take place. Given Manchin and Sinema’s firm opposition to any rule tweaks, Senate Democratic leadership may have to be content with a lengthy, bruising debate over sweeping election reform legislation backed by the White House and progressive activists.
Democrats were dealt another setback Thursday when Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. Unlike the House, the Senate does not give its members the option to vote remotely — meaning that with Schatz’s absence, Democrats did not have the necessary votes this week to even begin debate on the massive voting measure.
In a moment of high drama on the Senate floor, Sinema gave a nearly 20-minute speech detailing her belief that eliminating the legislative filibuster would only further divide the two parties and those they represent.
“These [election] bills help the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself,” she said. “And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
President Biden, who supported the filibuster for nearly two decades, has recently urged his party to get rid of or alter the rule in order to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Shortly after Sinema’s remarks, Biden traveled to the Capitol to meet with Senate Democrats in an effort to sway Manchin and Sinema.
The president did not appear confident after the meeting, telling reporters: “I hope we can get this done, but I’m not sure.”
“But one thing for certain [is that] like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” Biden added. “We missed this time.”
After Biden left the Capitol, Manchin release a statement of his own backing Sinema’s position.
“Allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel onto the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart — especially when one party controls both Congress and the White House,” he said. “As such, and as I have said many times before, I will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”
The two senators then went to the White House Thursday evening, where they and the president had “a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights,” according to an administration official.