The Hill calls this Plan B. It more closely resembles Plan 9 From Outer Space — attempting to raise the dead to take over the world. In a last-ditch effort to force passage of progressives’ election-federalizing bill, Chuck Schumer might try to make Senate Republicans adopt a “talking filibuster” without any rules changes up front in order to tire them into collapse.
Needless to say, there are a couple of problems with this idea:
Now some Democrats are discussing a novel approach to circumventing a Republican filibuster that may allow voting rights legislation to pass with 51 votes without changing the Senate’s rules.
These Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), are exploring the possibility of forcing Senate Republicans to actually hold the floor with speeches and procedural motions.
They hope that the Republican opposition may tire itself out after a few days or weeks and that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) may be able to then call for a simple-majority vote on final passage and skip the formal procedural vote — known as cloture — on ending debate.
Good luck, Chuck. Read The Hill’s lengthy pro-con primer on this strategy, but let’s remember who Schumer’s up against in this temper tantrum. Mitch McConnell has more parliamentary and procedural tricks up his sleeve than Schumer has shirts. The Hill focuses on all the ways in which Republicans can keep extending debate on the one question to get around the two-speech “rule,” such as offering new motions and amendments and extending debate indeterminately. However, The Hill misses on all the ways in which McConnell can keep the Senate from even getting to a debate in the first place.
Both chambers of Congress operate on a large degree of parliamentary cooperation in order to keep business moving. Unanimous consent provides most of the grease for those workings, while debate takes place on matters of actual import. Senate Republicans can grind the entire Senate to a halt simply by refusing UC on mundane items, especially the waiver of bill readings on the floor. With these bills especially, that alone could eat up weeks, and that could take place at every stage of bill consideration. And that’s just one tactic in McConnell’s potential parliamentary arsenal.
This brings us to the reason the Senate abandoned the talking filibuster in the first place. If Schumer forces McConnell into such a position, it stops the Senate’s business on all other matters. While debate is actually taking place, it’s the only action the chamber can take. Everything else gets paused. The cloture process is useful because it allows for debate suspension to do other business, creating a safety valve for normal and less controversial business. Without it, the Senate will grind to a halt in a talking filibuster, especially when both sides are playing chicken over it.
It’s possible that the two sides could arrange for something similar in the talking filibuster, but (a) Schumer’s entire strategy would be to tire out the GOP so rest periods would undercut it, and (b) McConnell’s not going to let Schumer off the hook for this burn-it-all-down strategy. It’s a recipe for actual gridlock, just when Democrats and Joe Biden desperately need some actual wins on the midterm scoreboard.
But wait — there’s more! This only works even in theory if Schumer has 50 votes for the underlying bill. Does he? Joe Manchin might have some bad news for Schumer on that point, and he might not be alone. Democratic strategist Steve Clemons told Politico’s Ryan Lizza last week that Manchin’s quietly opposed to significant parts of the John Lewis Act portion of the bill, and that any attempt by Schumer to force debate on it might end up embarrassing Democrats:
Steve: What I learned last night, what I learned recently is something I did not know — and it’s because I don’t know everything about Joe Manchin, I don’t know everything about [what’s] going on — is that the bill that the Freedom to Vote Act, which a lot of people had in shorthand thought was sort of Joe Manchin, Stacey Abrams… Joe Manchin believes it is not, that it’s not. They didn’t write the bill. It didn’t have the language. It still has a lot of stuff in it he doesn’t like and that the Rules Committee under Senator Klobuchar have put together something that is no longer his bill. I did not know that. …
In my book, it gives Joe Manchin an opportunity to critique the Freedom to Vote Act. I don’t know whether he will or not. This is all real time happening right now, and so I don’t know what he will do on it. But I was surprised to learn that after all of the effort in all of the applause of what he and Stacey Abrams had done together, that that so-called bill is not the bill that’s on the floor. So that was new to me. That’s a big, big deal because it gives Manchin a way out of supporting this if he doesn’t want to support it, right? So I think there’s a dimension there that I think hasn’t been reported.
Manchin also reportedly prefers to have Republican engagement in any election-related bills and doesn’t want this jammed down the GOP’s throat. His preference would be to focus on reforming the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to preclude any more fringe challenges to the Electoral College process, which has gained significant support from Senate Republicans. If Schumer attempts a burn-it-all-down strategy, Manchin may well burn Schumer first by making it clear that he won’t support the bill in the end anyway.
And let’s not forget that Manchin has lots of incentive to make a final play of his own, too. West Virginia is so deeply red these days that it practically falls off the visible light spectrum. If Manchin wants to keep his Senate seat, he will have to consider a party switch, especially with Democrats leaning so much toward progressive self-immolation now. Manchin can put an end to all of these machinations simply by caucusing with McConnell and stripping Schumer of control of the Senate. At the rate Schumer and Biden are going, Democrats won’t have control of it for long anyway, and Manchin might recognize that his efforts to preserve the Senate’s character won’t be enough with Schumer in charge.
In other words, this is a futile and stupid gesture on Schumer’s part, which brings us to another cinematic analogy altogether. In this case, though, it’s as though Dean Wormer-Schumer joined Delta, and Fred Dorfman’s converted car is aimed right at the administration building.