By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is once again right in the middle of a heated congressional debate as Democratic leadership threatens to overthrow the long-established filibuster rule to push through voting legislation that would give the federal government broad powers over state elections.
“If Republicans continue to block our efforts, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections,” Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer said.
The move comes on the heels of Democratic leadership’s failure to get the Build Back Better spending bill across the finish line in December. Hindered in part by months of elevated inflation data, Democrats could not secure the votes for another major spending plan.
“For five and a half months, I have worked as diligently as possible meeting with President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and my colleagues on every end of the political spectrum to determine the best path forward despite my serious reservations,” Sen. Manchin said in December. “I have made my concerns clear through public statements, op-eds and private conversations. My concerns have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world.”
Sen. Manchin has signaled he opposes lowering the filibuster threshold, a move that would help pave the way for Democrats’ legislative agenda.
“There’s been rule changes, but there’s never been a change with a filibuster, the rights of the minority,” Sen. Manchin told Bret Baier of Fox News Sunday in December.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, has also balked at the idea of significantly changing the filibuster. Axios reported Tuesday that Sen. Sinema told Democratic colleagues she would not support removing the filibuster. Sen. Manchin expressed concerns again this week, saying Republicans would have to agree to altering the current filibuster rules.
“Any way you can do a rules change to where everyone’s involved, and basically that’s a rule that usually will stay,” he told reporters. “That’s what you should be pursuing, being open to a rules change that would create a nuclear option. It’s very, very difficult.”
Republicans partnered with Democrats to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year, after which President Joe Biden heralded his ability to work across the aisle to reach a compromise.
Republicans have fired back, saying Democrats have gone too far by pushing to “break” Senate rules.
“No party that would break the Senate can be trusted to seize unprecedented control over all 50 states’ election laws,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, said in a statement Wednesday. “The fact that many Democrats are this desperate for a one-party takeover of our democracy proves exactly why they cannot be allowed to do it.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has not given up on the Build Back Better legislation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sparked controversy for saying Americans do not support Build Back Better because they don’t know what is in it.
“They don’t know exactly what’s in Build Back Better and what it means,” Ms. Psaki said. “It’s always easier to sell a package to the public once it’s passed, so we’re hoping we’re going to get to that point, and that’s our objective.”
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.