President Joe Biden and other top congressional Democrats used the one-year anniversary for the Jan. 6, insurrection to promote their long-stalled voting and ethics reforms. The Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked the legislation and criticized the measures as a "partisan Power Grab" and warned that any rule changes would haunt Democrats under a GOP majority.
Democrats claim that Trump's false claims about a stolen election incited the mob to storm the Capitol. Trump's relentless campaign of disinformation prompted a GOP effort by the GOP to pass state laws that make it harder to vote and in some cases, more open to political influence.
Many Democrats believe the time has come for them to take a decisive stand in the fight for civil rights. The last chance to stop Republicans' state-level push in 2022 is to change Senate rules in the early part of 2022. This will allow Democrats to take control of the Senate before the midterm elections. If Republicans win the House majority and a slim hold in the 50-50 Senate, they could lose their power.
"If Republicans continue their hijacking of the rules of this chamber to prevent us protecting our democracy," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday.
But what actions they take is highly uncertain due to Sen. Joe Manchin's sometimes elusive support. Key Democrats have been meeting Manchin for weeks and brainstorming ideas while also recruiting outside allies to lobby him.
Manchin has not made any firm commitments. Manchin has stated repeatedly that he won't support the reduction of the filibuster threshold of 60 votes for most legislation. This stance is shared by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz), a fellow centrist. Enacting election legislation may prove difficult, if it not impossible.
However, Democrats insist that they are focused on the immediate and achievable goals despite increasing pressure from their allies to act. They say even modest changes in Senate rules would be a step forward.
Biden will deliver a speech on Tuesday in Atlanta, focusing on voting rights. Schumer added to the symbolism of civil rights by establishing Jan. 17 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is the deadline for either passing the voting legislation or revising it. This week, the Senate will likely hold a series test votes to highlight Republican opposition.
Manchin stated last week that he would not say "yes" or "no" because he doesn't know which votes will be on the floor. He also noted that he had supported changes to Senate rules in the previous. One proposal that Democrats are currently discussing is to eliminate the filibuster on "motion to proceed", which is required before a bill can go to the Senate floor.
Republicans claim invoking Jan. 6's insurrection to impose their will is offensive. They claim that the voting bills were written before the attack.
As much of Biden’s agenda has been stalled in Congress, the renewed attention on voting rights is a result. Manchin stopped work on Biden’s approximately $2 trillion package of environmental and social initiatives before Christmas. This delayed the bill indefinitely.
Civil rights activists are frustrated at the outcome of events and feel that precious months have been lost. The GOP-backed changes to voting laws are seen by them as a subtler form ballot restrictions such literacy tests and poll taxes that were once used to disenfranchise Black voters. This is a crucial Democratic constituency.
"Unfortunately, many policymakers haven't truly appreciated the gravity where we are at this moment in this country at this time," NAACP President Derrick Johnson stated in an interview. Johnson was referring to both Biden and Senate Democrats. "African Americans have witnessed this before. This has happened before. This is why we must move beyond the procedural discussions and get to protecting democracy's substance.
The Democrats' legislation, if it is signed into law by the Senate, would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. election systems in a generation. It will remove all obstacles to voting that were enacted for the sake of election security, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and limit partisan influence on the drawing of congressional districts. This package would establish national election standards which would override state-level GOP laws. It would also allow the Justice Department to re-authorize its ability to enforce election laws in states that have a history discrimination.
McConnell dismissed the effort as one that was inspired by "scary tales that liberal activists keep repeating over and over about how democracy is at the death's door." McConnell recently suggested that narrower bipartisan action could be possible to help a complicated 19th-century law known as the Electoral Count Act, which governs certification of presidential election results. Trump wanted to use this law to overcome his defeat in 2020. Manchin could be open to a compromise. He has previously stated that any election legislation should be enacted on an equal basis.
Last week, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine held bipartisan talks. Roger Wicker, Thom Tillis, North Carolina, and Mitt Romney, Utah were present. Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, and Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona, also participated in bipartisan talks. According to a Collins spokesperson, the discussion included an update to the Electoral Count Act.
Democrats have criticized the GOP's overture on the Electoral Count Act by calling it a "cynical political maneuver" that aims to do the minimum federally while leaving in place laws in GOP-controlled swing state like Georgia.
"What good does it do to certify an election if I don’t get to vote in the first instance?" asked Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. He was the first African American to be elected to the Senate from Georgia. This year, he is running for reelection.
Republicans warn that Democrats may regret any changes to filibuster. This is a tool to encourage compromise and make it difficult for legislation to be passed.
"They barely have majority now," stated Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is the chamber's No. 2 Republican. "Even the largest majorities end up back in minority."