Sen. Angus King and other backers of Democrats’ voting rights overhaul met with moderate holdouts on Wednesday before a self-imposed deadline to come to a deal, but there was little sign of a breakthrough.
Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and nine colleagues including King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats met for an hour with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and others met for even longer with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in hopes of finding a way to pass the sweeping measures with a simple majority vote.
Flanked by his top lieutenant, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, Schumer said Democrats are “trying to come to a place” where 50 senators can support two key laws, eliminate the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass laws and implement them. He called the meetings “serious, long, and intense,” but conceded there was no deal in sight.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to delude anybody into thinking this is easy.”
The push comes as Schumer vows to bring the measures up for votes in the Senate this week ahead of Monday’s national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also says he will also hold a vote or votes on tweaking the Senate rules, even if it puts Manchin and Sinema in a tough political spot.
President Joe Biden raised the political heat on fellow Democrats Tuesday when he for the first time called for changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow voting rights bills to pass with a simple majority.
Along with Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden said the new measures are needed to safeguard American democracy after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and former President Trump’s campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 elections.
Both Manchin and Sinema have repeatedly said they will not back eliminating the filibuster. But they have not 100% ruled out a carve-out for expanding rights or a one-time exception to the rule, keeping some hope alive that a deal is possible.
King has emerged as a passionate backer of the voting rights overhaul. Long skeptical of eliminating the filibuster outright, he wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed calling this issue a “special case” as Republican-led states change voting laws. He went further at a Tuesday news conference, saying while he worried about the long-term effects of majority rule in the Senate, voters can throw out senators every two years in an election if they overreach.
“If that check is compromised, then the system doesn’t work,” he said.
Republicans are united in lockstep opposition against any change in the Senate rules and mostly also oppose the new voting laws. They scoff at Democratic rhetoric, accusing their rivals of seeking to win a partisan edge and rile up their base of support.
Story by Michael McAuliff and Dave Goldiner of the New York Daily News. BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.