Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.), the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, sent out a Dear Colleague letter to the rest of the Senate Monday morning in which he discussed voting reform, which is at the top of his agenda for the new year. In his words, the U.S. Senate must advance “systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic.” Schumer is ready to change the Senate rules either to abolish or to limit the availability of the filibuster in order to advance that cause.
The filibuster is a maneuver in which a minority in the Senate kills a bill by keeping debate open indefinitely, so that a vote can never be held. This is powerful because a vote to close debate and end a particular filibuster requires 60 votes, a “supermajority.” But a vote to change the relevant Senate rule, making debate cloture easier, would require only 51 votes, including that of the Vice President. In other words, the effort to change the filibuster rule itself cannot be filibustered.
Schumer does not in his Dear Colleague letter specify the changes that he wants to the cloture rule. It is likely he has in mind a carve-out of matters relating to voting rights, analogous to the existing carve-out of judicial nominations.
The Thing to Know:
Schumer set January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a finish line. If the Republicans agree by then to allow a substantive vote on the voting rights bills, there will be no change in Senate rules. But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before that day.