60 groups to Senate Dems: Drop the filibuster to 'safeguard Our democracy'

60 groups to Senate Dems: Drop the filibuster to 'safeguard Our democracy'
Sen. Chuck Schumer in Oct. 2020, Wikimedia Commons
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Dozens of progressive advocacy groups on Monday kicked off the New Year by reiterating with fresh urgency a demand they made to Senate Democrats throughout 2021: Reform the legislative filibuster to shield U.S. democracy from the increasingly authoritarian GOP.

In a new letter to members of the Senate Democratic caucus, 60 organizations led by Fix Our Senate implored the majority party to recognize the "need to pass federal democracy and voting legislation to safeguard our democracy," just as it acted in December to "extend the debt limit to avoid economic calamity."

"We thank you for your commitment to responsible governance and your rejection of Republicans' debt ceiling partisanship and obstruction," the letter reads. "Thanks to your resolve during both the October standoff and again this month, you were successful in staving off economic calamity while revealing [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell's animating priority: to maintain the filibuster and his ability to obstruct Democrats’ other essential priorities."

"Unfortunately," the letter adds, "while Senator McConnell and his Republican caucus allowed the filibuster to be eliminated for this latest debt limit extension, they remain committed to abusing the filibuster to obstruct democracy legislation, such as electoral college reforms, and voting rights legislation, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act."

The new letter was sent as the U.S. Senate returned from holiday recess on Monday with eyes on the evenly divided chamber's Democratic leadership, which has vowed to pursue rule changes if Republicans filibuster another attempt to pass voting rights legislation.

"If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to his fellow senators last month.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have thus far refused to agree to any changes to the filibuster rule, which would require just a simple majority vote. Last month, President Joe Biden endorsed a filibuster carve-out for voting rights legislation.

"You can think of January as a moment when two different forces are converging," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a long-time supporter of filibuster reform, told the Wall Street Journal on Monday. “One is the functionality of the Senate and the other is the functionality of our republic.”

Under current Senate rules, 60 votes are needed for most legislation to advance—a requirement that Republicans have used to stonewall several Democratic efforts to pass legislation that would combat voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, and other anti-democratic tactics the GOP is pursuing at the state level nationwide ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Between January 1 and December 7 of 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 19 states approved 34 laws rolling back ballot access.

Meanwhile, Sean Eldridge of Stand Up America noted Sunday, "As we near the anniversary of a deadly insurrection at our nation's Capitol, not a single federal bill has been signed into law to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

"House Democrats have done their job and passed voting rights legislation—the Senate must act," Eldridge added. "Now."

Read the groups' full letter:

Dear members of the Senate Democratic Caucus,

On behalf of the millions of Americans we represent, we thank you for your commitment to responsible governance and your rejection of Republicans’ debt ceiling partisanship and obstruction. Thanks to your resolve during both the October standoff and again this month, you were successful in staving off economic calamity while revealing Senator Mitch McConnell’s animating priority: to maintain the filibuster and his ability to obstruct Democrats’ other essential priorities.

By initially insisting that Democrats raise the debt ceiling on their own while filibustering attempts to pursue a long-term extension, Senator McConnell and his Republican caucus created completely unnecessary economic uncertainty. It was a dangerous escalation in the already partisan and gridlocked Senate.

However, when it became clear that Senate Democrats were engaged in a serious conversation about Senate rules reform, Senator McConnell caved in October and helped pass a short-term debt limit extension, and then caved once again in December by negotiating a filibuster carve-out for the debt limit.

Unfortunately, while Senator McConnell and his Republican caucus allowed the filibuster to be eliminated for this latest debt limit extension, they remain committed to abusing the filibuster to obstruct democracy legislation, such as electoral college reforms, and voting rights legislation, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

Just as we needed to extend the debt limit to avoid economic calamity, we need to pass federal democracy and voting legislation to safeguard our democracy. And just as you had earlier been prepared to recognize that the U.S. economy is more important than the filibuster, we urge you to make a similar assessment when it comes to our democracy and our right to vote.

We commend your ongoing resolve and unity and thank you for your leadership and commitment to delivering on behalf of the American people.

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