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Jan. 19, 2022, 4:56 p.m. EST

The Senate filibuster: its origins and mechanics, and why it’s likely an insurmountable hurdle to voting-rights legislation

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The relevance today: Characterizing debate on their current voting legislation as the civil rights fight of this era, Democrats say their bill is needed to counteract a Republican push for new state-level laws, which the Democrats say will make it more difficult to vote and in some cases make the administration of elections more susceptible to political influence.

The Democrats’ bill would create national election standards that would trump the state-level GOP laws, which are being enacted in the name of election security, such as restrictions on mail voting or strict photo ID requirements.

It also aims to reduce the influence of big money in politics and limit partisan considerations in the drawing of congressional districts. It would restore the ability of the Justice Department to police election laws in states with a history of discrimination.

How to get around the filibuster: In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats don’t have enough votes to break a filibuster unless 10 Republicans join them.

But they could change Senate rules by invoking a so-called nuclear option , which would then allow them to make changes to the filibuster with a simple majority of 51 votes. Both parties have used it to change the filibuster rules around confirmation of presidential nominees.

Many Democrats have urged the party to take this path, though they lack unanimous support in their caucus to do so. Their two most conservative senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, oppose such changes, arguing the country is better served when Congress can find bipartisan solutions.

Key Words: Alabama football coach Nick Saban and other sports legends with ties to West Virginia urge Joe Manchin to step up for voting-rights bill

Why Manchin and Sinema are opposed to removing or weakening the filibuster: Manchin and Sinema also argue changes to the filibuster would come back to haunt Democrats if Republicans gain control of Congress and the White House.

Someday soon, they warn, it could enable the GOP to pass an agenda with limited input from the minority — and herald an era of drastic reversals in federal policy any time one party gains control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Republican opposition to the voting-rights legislation: Senate Republicans unanimously oppose the Democratic legislation, describing it as federal overreach that would infringe on states’ abilities to conduct their own elections.

They ridicule as “fake hysteria” the Democrats’ claim that the bill is needed to repair electoral vulnerabilities exposed by Donald Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 election. They note that much of the current legislation was written years before.

From the archives (March 2021): Voting rights intensify as partisan battleground, with Democrats pushing H.R. 1 and Republicans altering election procedures at state level

Also see (May 2021): ‘Big Lie’ allegiance dividing Republicans into Trump loyalists and a Cheney-Romney-Kinzinger wing

Republicans also have been quick to point out that Democrats stridently opposed changes to the filibuster when they were in the minority, using it routinely to block legislation when Trump was president.

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