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Politico: Even the White House knows this push on SB1 is futile

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The White House has a fever, and the only post-BBB collapse is … more progressive cowbell! How do we know the revival of the long-dead Democratic attempt to federalize elections is nothing more than a political stunt? For one thing, Democratic leadership had stopped talking about it for months until they needed a distraction from the collapse of Build Back Better. For another, as Tom Cotton reminded everyone yesterday, Democrats are figuring out that they may need an excuse in eleven months:

And finally, as Politico reports, even the White House concedes that a revival of SB1 is doomed to failure. Not only does the Senate filibuster prevent it from passing, but more Senate Democrats have opposed it than the BBB:

The White House wants to mark the new year with a forceful push for voting rights, portraying the protection of the ballot as a battle for democracy itself. But despite a renewed emphasis from an increasingly impatient and frustrated base, prospects for legislative success still look grim.

West Wing aides believe that fresh federal efforts to defend the ballot and install safeguards ahead of the midterm elections are likely to be dashed by some Democrats’ resistance to changing the Senate filibuster, a reluctance spearheaded by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). …

But aides also recognize that a full-court press on voting rights — even if good politics — would be doomed to fail without a change to the filibuster. And they are skeptical that they can bring reluctant Democrats on board for such changes. While Manchin has said he’s open to reforming the chamber’s rules in a bipartisan manner, he does not support nuking the legislative filibuster. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has warned that scrapping the filibuster could come back to haunt Democrats. White House aides, as such, have been instructed to avoid the phrase “filibuster reform,” which they believe has become toxic and spurs knee-jerk opposition.

It’s not just the filibuster, though. When SB1 failed in May, it hadn’t even acquired 50 votes for passage, let alone 60. Joe Manchin opposed any form of voting reform that didn’t have at least some bipartisan buy-in, and several other Democrats from red-to-purple states were at least hesitant about getting on board that progressive bandwagon.

But even if they get Manchin on board SB1, which seems highly unlikely (not to mention Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Kelly, Jon Tester, and others), they’d still need ten Republicans. Politico notes that some effort on rules changes might involve the filibuster, but The Hill’s report on Tuesday puts those in a much more modest light:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) met with a bipartisan group of senators this week to discuss how to “restore the Senate,” including how to make it easier to bring up legislation.

The group, which met in Manchin’s Senate basement office on Monday night, included Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) and GOP Sens. Mike Rounds (S.D.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Roy Blunt (Mo.).

“We’ve had informal talks on several different occasions … to try to find a way to make it simpler, to make easier to get on subject matter [bills],” Rounds said.

One idea that was floated during the meeting was getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle on proceeding to legislation, though nothing was decided. Such a change would still require 60 votes to end debate on legislation.

Rounds added that he was supportive of getting rid of the 60-vote threshold for starting debate on a bill but that he was “very much in favor of maintaining the filibuster” required to end debate on a bill.

The effort is intended to get bills and amendments to the floor easier, not to overcome minority rights in the Senate. Even on the more modest adjustments, Mitt Romney told The Hill that “there was no meeting of the minds.” The Hill also reminded readers that such a rule change would take 67 votes unless Chuck Schumer used the so-called “nuclear option,” and Manchin blasted the idea:

Asked last week if he would support using the nuclear option, Manchin added: “I just said it should be bipartisan — why would you go nuclear option? … I’ve never voted for that. I’ve never voted for that, OK?”

If Manchin’s talks on rules aim to “restore the Senate,” that clearly won’t include eliminating the legislative filibuster. It might even entail re-imposing filibusters on presidential nominations at some point, although probably not soon with Ted Cruz’ blockade on ambassadors aggravating both caucuses at the moment.

Basically, the White House and progressives want to revive SB1 to use as a talking point for the midterms. The biggest problem with that strategy is that while Democrats launch their campaign on election management, most voters will focus on the economy and pandemic fatigue — both issues that the GOP will embrace. At the same time, Biden’s team and Democratic leadership in Congress will re-inflate expectations among progressive activists that are doomed to fail in the end, again.

It’s political insanity, but it’s apparently the only trick in Biden’s bag.