by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 293 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,021 days away.
How the Senate filibuster fight will go down
After months of speculation about the future of the filibuster, Democrats will attempt to change Senate rules today to force the chamber to move forward with voting rights legislation. The gambit — lacking unanimous support from within the Democratic caucus — is expected to fail. Here’s how it will work:
First, let’s refresh on the Senate’s current rules. Right now, to pass a bill in the Senate, only 51 votes — a simple majority — are needed. But to get to that final, up-or-down vote on passing legislation, bills must first survive a “cloture vote,” which cuts off debate on the measure and allows the chamber to move to a vote on the bill’s passage.
That cloture vote requires support from 60 senators, meaning that a supermajority of senators must agree to end debate on a bill before a simple majority of senators can vote to pass it. If a bill fails to reach the 60-vote threshold to move beyond a cloture vote, it is said that the minority party is staging a “filibuster” to block the legislation. (Although the filibuster has roots dating back even further, the Senate’s cloture rules were formalized in 1917.)
The voting rights bill currently before the Senate is supported by a simple majority (all 50 Democrats plus Vice President Kamala Harris, who breaks ties in the Senate) but lacks support from a 60-vote majority to end debate (which would require assistance from 10 Republicans).
The measure, dubbed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would establish new nationwide standards for voting in the U.S. by requiring states to institute online, automatic, and same-day voter registration; a minimum of 15 days of early voting; and no-excuse mail voting, among other changes. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday and restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require new voting rules in certain states to be “pre-cleared” by the federal government.
How will Democrats seek to change Senate procedures today to pass the bill? Generally, a two-thirds majority of senators (67 of them) are needed to change the rules of the Senate. However, there exists a work-around known as the “nuclear option,” in which the majority party can attempt to amend Senate rules with only 51 votes.
Here’s how the nuclear option works: the Senate is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on the Democratic voting rights bill at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time today. Because only 50 senators — and not 60 — support ending debate on the measure, that vote will fail.
Once the presiding officer has declared cloture was not invoked, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will stand to raise a point of order, arguing that the presiding officer is wrongly interpreting Senate rules. The presiding officer will reject the point of order — but here’s the catch: Schumer will then appeal, and overturning a “ruling of the chair” only takes 51 votes (instead of the 67 usually needed to change the rules), creating a backdoor to effectively changing Senate rules (not in text, but in how they are implemented).
The Senate has “gone nuclear,” using this same work-around, three times in the past: Democrats did it in 2013 to change the cloture threshold to 51 votes for all presidential nominations except to the Supreme Court, then Republicans expanded that change to include Supreme Court nominees in 2017 and also shrank the minimum debate time for lower-level nominees in 2019. (The nuclear option has never before been used to change how legislation is passed in the Senate.)
Schumer announced on Tuesday exactly how he will propose to amend the rules. His modification won’t apply to Senate Rule XXII (which regulates cloture votes), but to Senate Rule XIX — specifically, the provision in that rule that senators can only speak twice “on any one question” (a vague dictum which doesn’t currently preclude speaking more than twice on a particular piece of legislation).
In effect, Schumer will attempt to force a clarification stating that senators can only speak twice on the Democratic voting rights bill. (He will seek to apply his new rule only to this specific bill, without setting a permanent precedent.)
No change will be made to the cloture threshold: during the debate, it would still take 60 votes to cut off discussion. But, under this theoretical rule, once senators have spoken twice on the bill (after a likely “talking filibuster,” when Republicans would speak for as long as they could muster), debate on the measure would simply be deemed over and the Senate could hold a vote on final passage at a simple majority threshold
A reality check, though: Democrats don’t have the votes to make this happen. Invoking the nuclear option takes 51 votes (again, that would be every Senate Democrat plus Harris in this case), but at least two Democrats are expected to oppose the move.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who opposed all three previous nuclear option attempts, reiterated his opposition on Tuesday, after Schumer outlined his plan. “I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule,” he said.
Manchin is joined by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who announced last week that she would oppose any rules change without bipartisan support. “While I continue to support [the voting rights bill], I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” she said.
The likely failure of the voting rights package will be a major setback for Democrats. President Biden and his allies have characterized this struggle as a crucial one for the survival of democracy, and expended a large amount of political capital to push forward with it.
“At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? ... Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” Biden said in a speech in Atlanta last week. “This is the moment to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
The bill is a response to measures passed in Republican-led states across the country that have restricted access to the ballot box. Republicans have characterized the Democratic bill (and the attempted use of the filibuster to enact it) as an unprecedented power grab: “They want to take over the Senate, so they can take over elections, so they can take over America,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week.
In opposing the rules change, Manchin and Sinema will effectively kill their party’s own top legislative priority. Their stance has already provoked deep anger within the Democratic base — and among top Democratic leaders and groups. Sen. Bernie Sander (I-VT) told reporters on Tuesday that he’d consider supporting primary challengers to the duo; EMILY’s List, the prominent pro-choice organization, pulled its support of Sinema.
Manchin, though, hailing from a deep-red West Virginia, indicated Tuesday that he was not afraid of a primary fight. “I’ve been primaried my entire life,” he said. “That would not be anything new for me ... We’re used to that, so bring it on.”
The latest in Ukraine
By Wake Up To Politics global contributor Miles Hession:
As negotiations with other world powers stall, Russia seems closer than ever to launching an invasion of Ukraine. NATO and American diplomatic officials met with Russian counterparts three times last week to find a diplomatic solution, but redlines seemed to have only crystallized further. The Russian delegation made clear that they would only accept assurances that NATO would not expand into Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, which is regarded as a non-starter by NATO members.
As the impasse has grown, Russian representatives have doubled down on threats of non-diplomatic action. After one round of unsuccessful talks, a cyberattack (which has not been officially tied to Russia) took down much of the Ukrainian government’s internet presence. The Russian embassy in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, was also partially evacuated as reports emerged of Russian saboteurs being placed in Ukraine to instigate a conflict as a pretense for an invasion.
Even more dramatic was the Cold War-like threat that Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at: placing nuclear warheads in striking distance of Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities. In the midst of talks of “color revolutions” and Russia expanding its sphere of influence into former Soviet republics, it’s a stark reminder of lingering resentment felt by many Russians after NATO partially filled up the power vacuum left by the U.S.S.R. after its fall.
President Biden furthered upped the ante by threatening to fund a Ukrainian insurgency should Russia invade. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to meet with Russian representatives and European allies in another rounds of talks, and NATO allies have firmly unified around the existential threat of a Russian invasion
“We believe we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “I would say that’s more stark than we have been.”
What else you should know
→ Covid. The federal government’s new website for Americans to order rapid Covid tests — covidtests.gov — formally launches today. “Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests,” the website says. “The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.”
- The Biden administration also announced plans this morning to distribute 400 million N95 masks to Americans by making them available for free at pharmacies and community sites.
→ Supreme Court. In every Supreme Court oral argument in January, Justice Neil Gorsuch has been the only one on the bench unmasked. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who sits next to Gorsuch and has diabetes, has participated in the arguments remotely. According to new reports from NPR and CNN, Gorsuch has refused to wear a mask despite a direct request from Chief Justice John Roberts on Sotomayor’s behalf.
- All lawyers and journalists are currently required to wear masks inside the Supreme Court building, but no such requirement applies to justices.
→ January 6 probe. The House committee investigating the January 6 attack issued a subpoena on Tuesday to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who acted as former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and helped lead his campaign to promote false claims about the 2020 election results. The panel also subpoenaed Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Boris Epshteyn, three other members of Giuliani’s legal team.
- According to a new report from CNN, the committee has also “subpoenaed and obtained records of phone numbers” associated with one of the former president’s sons, Eric Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancé of his eldest son Donald Trump Jr.
Chart of the Day
One day shy of his administration’s first anniversary, President Biden will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. Eastern Time today. It’ll be closely watched to see how he weighs in on the Senate voting rights push, the Omicron surge, the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation, and other topics.
This will be Biden’s 10th formal press conference since taking office.
How does that stack up with his predecessors? Here’s a chart comparing how many press conferences each of the most recent presidents held in their first year in office:
One more thing...
Here’s one last news story that caught me eye recently: According to the Wall Street Journal, some TikTok stars are making more money than America’s top CEOs.
The median pay for chef executives of S&P 500 companies in 2020? $13.4 million. And how much money did 17-year-old Charli D’Amelio, the most-followed TikTok creator, bring in last year? $17.5 million.
For comparison, the CEO of ExxonMobil made $15.6 million in 2020. The CEO of Starbucks? $14.7 million. The CEO of McDonald’s? $10.8 million. (D’Amelio’s sister Dixie, also a TikTok dancer, brought in $10 million last year, a haul that rivals the pay of the CEO of Southwest Airlines.)
All times Eastern.
→ President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. Then, at 4 p.m., he will hold a press conference, his first since November.
→ Vice President Kamala Harris will ceremonially swear in Mark Brzezinski as U.S. ambassador to Poland at 4 p.m. The diplomat, who served as U.S. ambassador to Sweden in the Obama era, is the son of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser in the Carter administration, and the sister of MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.
→ Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in Kyiv, Ukraine, as the threat of Russia invading the country grows. Earlier this morning, Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
→ The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of H.R.5746, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the Democratic voting rights and election reform package. The chamber is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on the measure at 6:30 p.m. The bill will need 60 “yea” votes to advance; because all 50 Republican senators oppose the measure, it is expected to fail the cloture vote.
After that vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to try to force a change to the Senate’s cloture rules, to institute a “talking filibuster” for the voting rights bill. Such a rules change would require unanimous support from all 50 Democratic senators; with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) staunchly opposed, the gambit is expected to be unsuccessful, dashing Democrats’ hopes of passing the voting rights legislation.
- H.R. 1192, the Puerto Rico Recovery Accuracy in Disclosures Act, which would require officials involved in Puerto Rico debt restructuring board to disclose potential conflicts of interest, extending the same practices regarding disclosure in mainland U.S. bankruptcy cases to the territory
- S. 1404, which would award the Congressional Gold Medal (the highest civilian honor given by Congress) to the secretive World War II-era Army unit known as the “Ghost Army” for its mission of impersonating other Allied units to deceive the enemy
- S. 452, which would award the Congressional Gold Medal to Willie O’Ree, who was the first Black player in the NHL
→ The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a roundtable at 2 p.m. on the plight of veterans who have been exposed to toxic fumes. Comedian Jon Stewart, who has become a leading advocate on the issue, will be one of the witnesses.
→ The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases.
At 10 a.m., the court will hear arguments in Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, a challenge by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) against a “provision of federal campaign-finance law limiting how and when candidates can repay loans that they make to their own campaigns,” according to SCOTUSBlog.
At 11 a.m., the court will hear arguments in Concepcion v. United States, which will settle a dispute about the information district courts must consider when reducing sentences under the First Step Act, the Trump-era criminal justice reform law.