Senate Returns Tuesday to Move Voting Rights to Floor for Debate


January 14, 2022 7:01 am

The Senate is set to return Tuesday to debate Democrats’ election-overhaul legislation before a series of key procedural votes, but fresh opposition by Republicans and moderate Democrats to a potential rules change indicates the effort has faltered.

“The Senate will adjourn tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor last night. “However, we will be postponing recess so the Senate can vote on voting rights. We will return on Tuesday to take up the House-passed message containing voting rights.”

The first procedural vote to take up the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act (H.R. 5746) won’t occur until Tuesday at the earliest. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced yesterday he had tested positive early this week for Covid-19, temporarily sidelining him from votes. Democrats need all 50 members of their caucus present to officially take up the elections bill unless a corresponding number of Republicans are also absent.

A potential snowstorm expected to hit Washington Sunday into Monday also factored into the delay, Schumer said. The chamber now plans to recess for a state work period the week of Jan. 24.

Republicans are “ready to be on the floor talking about all of the issues” they see with the bill, including provisions related to “ballot harvesting” and photo identification requirements, Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

“We also want to talk a lot about the issues that the president is ignoring,” Barrasso said.

The House yesterday passed a NASA leasing bill (H.R. 5746) amended to carry text of the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 4). That gambit allows Democrats to circumvent the first 60-vote hurdle, the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed. All 50 Senate Democrats are expected to provide the votes to adopt the motion to proceed.

After Democrats officially vote to take up the bill, Schumer can file cloture and move to force a vote to limit debate. Absent unanimous consent, the cloture vote would take place two days later with a 60-vote threshold. A maximum of 30 hours of debate would follow.

The cloture vote will likely fail on a party-line vote, given unanimous Republican opposition. Schumer at that juncture could raise a point of order and challenge the ruling from the chair in order to force a vote on a yet-undecided rules change. That reinterpretation and creation of new precedent would need a simple majority to be adopted.

But that point of order is expected to fail. Shortly before President Joe Biden spoke with the Senate Democratic caucus behind closed doors yesterday, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema(D-Ariz.) confirmed in a floor speech that while she supports the voting-rights bills, she “will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country” by weakening filibuster rules.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a few hours later also reiterated that he “will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

“I hope we get this done,” Biden told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. “The honest-to-God answer is: I don’t know if we get this done.”

House’s Role: House Democrats struck a positive note for their role advancing the voting rights measure on a party-line vote, 220-203. “The House has made clear, we stand with the people in the fight for voting rights,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the floor.

Lawmakers defended their decision to focus on the legislation, despite the seeming impossibility of it passing in the Senate.

Forcing floor debate requires Republican senators to explain their opposition to the voting rights legislation, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters yesterday. “If we have to go back to people and try to explain why we don’t have voting rights, it’s important they hear from Republicans themselves why they are blocking this critical legislation,” she said.

What’s Next

The Senate meets Tuesday and plans to take up H.R. 5746. Voting options, election procedures, and campaign finance rules would be modified by a House amendment to the Senate-passed bill, which would also require federal approval before voting changes can be implemented in states and localities with a recent history of discrimination.

The amendment would combine text drawn from two separate voting-focused measures: S. 2747, the “Freedom to Vote Act”; and S. 4, the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act”.

The House returns on Tuesday and plans a light week of work as members continue to test positive for Covid-19 and avoid the House chamber via proxy voting. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the House will vote on legislation to automatically enroll veterans in the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care system (H.R. 4673) and a Senate-passed bill (S. 2959) that would, because of Covid-19, allow school districts to use a previous year’s data when applying for Impact Aid.