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Senate Democrats on Wednesday forced two votes they knew they’d lose on their election bills and the filibuster – breaking a rule often followed by legislators, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to never call a vote you don’t know you’ll win.
The votes mark yet another political loss for President Biden and Democrats. They highlighted the internal divisions among Democrats over the filibuster. And they forced vulnerable Democrats up for reelection to cast a vote Republicans are already attacking them for.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and his colleagues say they have no regrets over the effort, which they say was not only the right thing to do, but could also help them in the midterms.
“We lost the vote. But to have not voted would have been a far greater loss,” Schumer said Thursday. “We know history is on the side of voting rights, and we know that forcing leaders to take stands will ultimately move the ball forward.”
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Schumer added: “Last night was unusual and exhilarating because we fought the good fight.”
Democrats failed to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold on the first Senate vote they called Wednesday. And they lost their “nuclear option” effort to alter the filibuster 52-48 when Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., joined Republicans to back the Senate custom.
But R Street Institute senior fellow for governance James Wallner said it’s possible Schumer “doesn’t think he lost” those votes because they were in service of broader plans.
“Democrats clearly have a goal in mind and that is to pass Republicans as opposed to voting rights legislation, and then they hope to run on that in November,” Wallner said.
Wallner also said Wednesday’s votes appeared more about messaging than a “serious” effort to get something passed, because “they had options at their disposal that they didn’t use.”
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Among them, Wallner said, would be to put the bill on the floor and try to push through the inevitable GOP floor filibuster, which would likely include amendments, lengthy speeches and procedural motions Democrats would have to defeat. But the Senate almost never goes through that process on legislation because of how unwieldy and time-consuming it is.
“All they have to do is protect the bill if they want to pass it, which means all they have to do is move to table any amendments that are offered,” and enforce the Senate’s two-speech rule on the bill itself, Wallner said.
“They still chose not to use that, which tells me it wasn’t serious,” he continued. “The value in this is Democrats don’t have to expend any effort. … They can tell their supporters that they’re really going to fight for these things, but at the same time they can explain why they don’t happen.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told Fox News that the Wednesday votes were not just about doing the right thing, as Schumer said, but also about laying the foundation for future success.
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“Today’s effort that falls short is the foundation for tomorrow’s effort that succeeds, and the history of voting rights in particular demonstrates that a failed vote will often lead to a successful one,” Kaine told Fox News. “This is not one and done, and we’re all very committed to continuing the fight.”
He added: “The provisions in the voting rights bill – including expanding early voting and vote by mail, nonpartisan redistricting, transparency in campaign contributions – are popular with Republicans, Democrats and Independents.”
It’s a notable half-victory for Schumer that 48 Senate Democrats voted against the filibuster Wednesday when more than half of Democrats currently in the Senate signed a letter supporting the filibuster in 2017. That moves him closer to a potential future victory on the filibuster.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the best way to get Democrats’ election bills passed is to elect more Democrats.
“I know you’re angry and frustrated at voting rights legislation not passing in the Senate. I am too. But I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep fighting as long as I’m in the Senate,” he tweeted. “I’m also going to work to expand our Senate majority. 50 Democrats in the Senate is NOT enough!”
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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with Democrats, said in a CNN op-ed Thursday the best way to grow the Democratic ranks is by taking votes like the ones Schumer called Wednesday.
“Democrats will not win in 2022 with a demoralized base. There must be energy and excitement. Today, in these difficult times, the American people want to know that their elected officials have the courage to take on the powerful special interests and fight for their needs,” Sanders said.
He added: “And, when we do that, the fundamental differences between the two parties will become crystal clear. That’s how you win elections.”
Fox News’ Jason Donner contributed to this report.