Currently, 60 votes are needed to prevent a filibuster. The change in question, which is often referred to as the “nuclear option,” would essentially do away with the filibuster and allow the Senate to pass legislation with just a simple majority of 51. To pass anything legislatively on voting rights, Senate Democrats would need that change to be made since they have no Republican support for the measure.
Along with Sinema, one of the most vocal Democratic opponents of this proposal is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. When asked to explain his stance Monday, Manchin implied the rules shouldn’t be changed because the 60-vote threshold is “what we’ve always had for 232 years.”
Facts First: Manchin is wrong. The 60-vote threshold required to invoke cloture (which effectively ends debate or a filibuster and signals a move to vote) was established in 1975, not 232 years ago. The current threshold is itself a reduction from the original set in 1917, which required a two-thirds majority to invoke cloture. And it’s worth noting that the “nuclear option” has also been triggered before.
The Senate already uses a simple majority to end debate in a few specific cases. In 2013, after Republicans blocked votes for several of President Barack Obama’s nominees, Senate Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, set a precedent to require only a simple majority of those voting to invoke cloture on all presidential nominations, except those for the Supreme Court. The rules were changed again during the Trump administration to apply to Supreme Court nominees as well after Democrats attempted a filibuster to prevent a vote on President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
It’s worth noting that Manchin’s 232 years is not an arbitrary number as the US Constitution went into effect roughly that long ago, in 1789. However, the filibuster is not mentioned in the Constitution, nor are the rules for it enshrined therein. The Constitution does outline a few situations, such as an impeachment trial, that require more than a simple majority vote but otherwise gives the Senate the right to set its own rules. Under Senate rules of the late 1700s, immediately after the Constitution went into effect, a debate could be ended with the vote of a simple majority.