Schumer vows U.S. Senate action on voting rights and social policy, as Manchin rift deepens

By: - December 20, 2021 4:43 pm

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, walks through the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on August 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday he plans to force votes on voting rights, a sweeping social policy bill and a change to Senate rules early next year — even as members of his caucus have made clear in recent days Democrats lack the support to pass those proposals.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues Monday, Schumer, of New York, said the Senate would vote in early January on a new version of President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion social spending and climate bill, as well as voting rights legislation deemed essential by many Democrats in advance of the midterm elections.

Schumer said that if Republicans use procedural tools to block consideration of voting rights through the filibuster, the Senate then would consider changes to its rules to bar such tactics.

The letter came less than 24 hours after Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginian considered the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, said on Fox News that he would not support the Biden-backed spending measure, dealing a surprise blow to the White House and Schumer’s caucus.

In the evenly split Senate, Manchin’s no vote would doom the bill known as Build Back Better, which the Democratic House passed just before Thanksgiving following months of negotiations between moderates and progressives.

Schumer’s letter appeared to take a shot at Manchin’s startling “Fox News Sunday” appearance.

“Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer wrote.

“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”

Progressives in Congress wanted to hold a vote on the measure, which includes popular proposals to extend an expanded child tax credit, establish universal pre-K, provide hundreds of billions in clean energy tax credits and others. Manchin has objected to the funding of the child tax credit and the cost of the legislation, among other items.

“I hope that we will bring a strong bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as we can and let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t have the guts to stand up against powerful special interests,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats and leading progressive senator from Vermont, said on CNN.

“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” he added.

The New York Times reported that Manchin in an interview Monday with a radio station in West Virginia blamed White House staff for the breakdown and for trying to pressure him. “Well, guess what, I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive. Period,” Manchin said, according to the Times.

Voting rights

Schumer also pledged to call a vote on voting rights legislation — another major priority for Biden and congressional Democrats after multiple Republican state legislatures enacted laws limiting voting protections.

Schumer has brought three voting rights bills to the floor that have garnered support of all 50 Senate Democrats, but that Republicans have blocked, taking advantage of the Senate rule requiring 60 votes for almost all legislation.

A single Senate Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, voted to proceed to debate on the latest voting rights bill.

But Manchin, while he has voted for voting rights bills, has said he also opposes changing the 60-vote threshold for advancing bills in the Senate. Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema also opposes it, a spokeswoman said last week, leaving Schumer at least two votes shy.

In his letter, Schumer appeared to be speaking directly to Manchin with a quote from his predecessor, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, also a Democrat from West Virginia and proponent of Senate decorum.

“As Former Senator Robert C. Byrd said in 1979, Senate rules that seemed appropriate in the past ‘must be changed to reflect changed circumstances,’” Schumer wrote. “Therefore, as with the BBB, Members will be given the chance to debate on the Senate floor and cast a vote so that their choice on this matter is clear and available for everyone to see.”

Several Senate Democrats were not given advance notice of Schumer’s letter, which he also released to the media early Monday.

The unusual move to call votes that are likely to fail was a source of consternation for some Democrats Monday.

The budget bill in particular would provide Republicans an opportunity to tee up votes on amendments that would open up senators to campaign attacks.

“I was honestly baffled when I saw that this morning,” an aide to a Senate Democrat said. “For the life of me, I cannot figure out why a Democratic leader — who barely has a majority — would do that.”

Schumer scheduled a virtual caucus meeting for Tuesday night to discuss the strategy.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the White House would be closely coordinating with Schumer on the votes in 2022. Psaki at a press briefing said the president’s message to senators would be that “we need to work together to get this done, and he’s going to work like hell to get it done.”

Psaki declined to elaborate on recent conversations between Biden and Manchin, or White House statements that may have contributed to the rift, but she said Biden “of course” is in favor of the extended child tax credit.

“We know that it was a significant contributor to cutting in half the child poverty rate,” she said. “I’m obviously not going to negotiate from here, but he doesn’t think compromise is a dirty word either.”

Jane Norman contributed to this report.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.