Sinema to Senate Dems: Absolutely no nuclear option or filibuster change

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Chuck Schumer’s mouth either keeps writing checks his caucus can’t deliver, or … well, that appears to be the only option. Schumer has insisted that he will call a vote on SB1, the Democrats’ “reform” bill that would federalize elections in the US, on January 17th in order to leverage the symbolism of Martin Luther King Day. The point would be to force a vote to end the legislative filibuster or carve out an exception so wide that its destruction would be inevitable.

Joe Manchin already tossed cold water on Schumer’s plan yesterday, with the folksy explanation that such carve-outs usually force you to “eat the whole turkey.” Manchin didn’t explicitly declare his opposition to a nuclear option to change the filibuster rule, but apparently Kyrsten Sinema has — repeatedly and recently:

Voting rights: Schumer says the Senate will vote on a package of Senate rules changes by Jan. 17 — less than two weeks away.

  • While Manchin said he’s still talking with his colleagues, he isn’t on board with a filibuster carve-out for voting rights — calling it “a heavy lift” — and isn’t willing to go nuclear and eliminate the filibuster altogether.
  • “Once you change a rule, or you have a carve-out … you eat the whole turkey,” the senator told a COVID-thinned group of pool reporters on Tuesday.
  • He added that he would want any reform of Senate rules to have GOP buy-in — a long-shot to near impossible ask.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), also a key holdout to major filibuster reform, reiterated during the Democratic lunch she will not support any effort to get rid of the 60-vote threshold, according to two sources familiar with the call.

  • Sinema has been having one-on-one talks with her colleagues for weeks, one of the sources said.

Not mentioned anywhere yet is where the other 48 Senate Democrats are on the nuclear option. Some of the leadership has definitely endorsed the idea, including Dick Durbin, who was a big fan of the legislative filibuster during the Trump administration. Others, though, have been pretty quiet about it, including Sinema’s Arizona colleague Mark Kelly, who has to face purple-to-red-state voters in November in an environment created by Joe Biden’s polling collapse. The same can be said for Catherine Cortez Masto, Maggie Hassan, and perhaps one or two other incumbent Democrats, and perhaps even Jon Tester in deep-red Montana.

There may be as many as six votes against a nuclear option, not just two. Forcing a vote on it, especially when it’s doomed to defeat, would put those vulnerable caucus members in the worst of all positions. They would have to cast a vote that would paint targets on their backs, either by angry constituents or by angry progressive activists based mainly in Democrats’ coastal-enclave power bases. Manchin won’t care and neither will Sinema, apparently. The rest of Schumer’s endangered incumbents won’t appreciate it at all, and are likely egging Manchin and Sinema on in their entrenched opposition in hopes that Schumer will back down. And if he forces a vote anyway and comes up short of 48 votes, Schumer will end up looking even more incompetent than he looks now.

Still, Schumer has dug himself into a hole with his promises of a renewed vote on a bill that also doesn’t have 50 votes in his own caucus. He could have just simply moved on in 2022 and focused on engaging with Republicans to advance legislation in the final year of this session. Instead, Schumer’s practically begging to be depantsed on the national stage no matter what happens. Imagine being in Washington DC for as long as Schumer has been and not learning the First Rule of Holes.