Biden called on the Senate to change its filibuster rules in a forceful speech on Tuesday and is coming to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with Senate Democrats to discuss the voting rights push. Senate Democrats are also holding a series of meetings on the issue, but so far Manchin and Sinema, two Democratic senators who have long expressed opposition to eliminating the 60-vote threshold for most legislation, appear unmoved.
Sinema had no comment on Biden’s speech, but a spokesperson told CNN that her position hasn’t changed: She still opposes eliminating the 60-vote threshold but is open to discussing ideas to improve the way the Senate works.
The Arizona Democrat’s position — along with Manchin’s — underscores the reality that there is no viable path to get the sweeping legislation to overhaul election laws onto Biden’s desk.
Manchin on Wednesday declined to give his views about Biden’s speech other than saying it was a “good speech.”
Asked about Biden’s comments that the majority should rule in the United States Senate, Manchin said, “He understands — we all understand how the Senate works.”
Manchin and Sinema have repeatedly voiced concerns over the long-term ramifications for the country if a majority could work its will over the minority party without being reined in by the filibuster. And Manchin has indicated that any rules changes should only be done on a bipartisan basis.
The dynamic has created a seemingly immovable obstacle for Democrats, who hold a narrow majority in the Senate and House — and face enormous pressure to pass voting legislation.
Voting bills are a major priority for liberal activists and voters, but Democrats have continually run up against a wall of Republican opposition in the Senate where the 50 votes that Democrats control is not enough to pass the bills as long as the filibuster remains in place.
As Democrats now push to change filibuster rules, the party is again hitting a wall of opposition, but this time from within their own ranks.
The party recently suffered another major blow to Biden’s agenda when Manchin said he could not support the Build Back Better Act, sweeping legislation to expand the social safety net and fight climate change. The legislation had stood as a centerpiece of Biden’s domestic agenda, but it is now unclear whether Democrats will be able to pick up the pieces and salvage any of the it.
As the clock ticks down to the 2022 midterm elections, it is also likely to become increasingly difficult for Democrats to pass any kind of major legislation.
‘Intense’ meetings underway with Manchin and Sinema
Despite the obstacles in their way, Senate Democrats are not giving up for now or conceding defeat.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that “intense” meetings with Manchin and Sinema continue as they “try to come to a place” where 50 senators can support both Democrats’ elections bills as well as a Senate rules change to pass them. He said, however, “we’re not there yet.”
“I wouldn’t want to delude anybody into thinking this is easy, but we’re trying to come to a place where 50 senators can support two bills — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Act — and with a change in the rules, so we can get the votes to pass these bills into law,” he said.
The New York Democrat indicated that he is prepared to hold a vote no matter where the discussions land.
Schumer has previously set a deadline of January 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for the Senate to vote on a rules change if Republicans continue to block voting rights legislation.