It was the perfect storm for the Senate on Thursday, resulting in disaster for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to have a showdown over the filibuster and voting rights and elections reforms by next Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But COVID-19, a looming winter storm, and a narcissist with rumored delusions of grandeur came crashing in to derail that plan.
Schumer announced on the floor Thursday night that the Senate would not work over the weekend because at least one member is sidelined with a COVID diagnosis, and because of a severe winter storm forecast for the weekend. He said the Senate would, however, postpone the MLK recess to return “on Tuesday to take up the House-passed message containing voting rights legislation. Make no mistake, the United States Senate will, for the first time this Congress, debate voting rights legislation beginning on Tuesday.” He promised that there will be a challenge to the filibuster, another threat to Senate Republicans and to Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.
“If the Senate Republicans choose obstruction over protecting the sacred right to vote, as we expect them to, the Senate will consider and vote on changing the Senate rules, as has been done many times before, to allow passage of voting rights legislation,” Schumer said. He continued, asking rhetorically how the Senate could allow for voter suppression laws to be enacted in the states with simple majority votes, while the U.S. Senate could not do the same to protect the right to vote, ”the cornerstone of our democracy.” He promised, “In the coming days, we will confront this sobering question and every member will go on record.”
The White House, Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters Friday morning, is still involved. “We keep fighting,” she said. “We are committed to seeing this through, however long it takes and whatever it takes.” Harris is meeting with Democratic senators on voting rights Friday.
President Joe Biden had “a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights,” with Manchin and Sinema Thursday night at the White House, after which neither of the senators commented. Given Sinema’s grandstanding on the floor about preserving the Jim Crow filibuster – and Manchin’s cheerleading of her afterward, the outlook is not bright.
But it is important to make them—and every other Democrat who might be hiding behind them—to make their position public. As Biden put it in his speech Tuesday: “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
Those Democrats hiding behind Manchin and Sinema, however, might quietly appeal to Schumer to back away from that pledge. He shouldn’t. It’s time Republican obstruction be faced head-on and for Democrats to choose their side, in public.
Beyond voting rights, and speaking of Manchin, the Senate is still stymied on Build Back Better. This is the week more than 30 million American families will begin missing those Child Tax Credit payments, payments that will disappear entirely for many families whose income levels kept them from previously receiving the tax credit. The outlook for that is also cloudy; Manchin appears to be insisting that, if the payments continue, they be tied to work requirements. This bill is being done under budget reconciliation, one of those 160+ filibuster carve-outs, so it doesn’t require Republican votes. It does, unfortunately, require diva votes.
The other issue that’s rising up, with a Feb. 18 deadline on government funding nearing, is staving off a shutdown and trying to adopt a long-term spending measure to get the nation through the rest of the fiscal year. Democrats are fighting for actual budget bills to fund their agenda, Republicans are trying to force another long-term continuing resolution that keeps the Biden administration hobbled with Trump administration spending levels.
Democrats also want to provide paid leave and possibly another round of COVID-19 relief payments in the package, as well as expanding testing and vaccine availability, depending on how much of the previously appropriated federal money is available.