Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
January 13, 2022

President Joe Biden will meet with Senate Democrats today at 1 P.M. as Democrat’s high-stakes push to change the filibuster and pass voting legislation is on the brink of defeat.  The President’s trip to Capitol Hill marks the first time he has met face-to-face with the Senate Democratic Caucus since July and comes two days after he traveled to Georgia to publicly push for his party to pass voting rights legislation even if they must do so without Republican votes.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), in a memo to the caucus on Wednesday afternoon, outlined the first piece of the upcoming fight: how they actually plan to bring up the voting rights legislation.  The House plans to send the Senate a just passed bill that combines the Freedom to Vote Act, which would overhaul federal elections, and voting rights legislation. Leader Schumer is then expected to use a procedural shortcut that will let Democrats bypass the 60 votes typically needed to start debate on legislation.  Schumer announced his intention to use existing rules to jump-start debate on the voting bills by having the House amend an existing, unrelated bill dealing with NASA and sending it back to the Senate as soon as Wednesday night. Starting debate under those circumstances requires only a simple majority of 51 votes, not a 60-vote supermajority.  That will let Democrats have a formal debate on the voting bill on the Senate floor. But the legislation will still need to clear a 60-vote hurdle before it can pass, with Republicans expected to block it.  Leader Schumer has vowed that once that happens, he’ll move to change the legislative filibuster by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But underscoring the uncertainty, Schumer hasn’t yet outlined how or when he will do that, or how Democrats will propose changing the rules.  Democrats haven’t yet decided if they will pursue a talking filibuster, which would allow opponents to delay a bill for as long as they could hold the floor, but the legislation would ultimately be able to pass with a simple majority, or create a carveout that exempts voting rights legislation from the 60-vote requirement.  They are also mulling smaller changes, including getting rid of the 60-vote threshold normally needed to start debate or shifting the onus from needing 60 votes to break a filibuster to 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.  Whether to do a talking filibuster or a carveout has divided even Democrats who are in favor of changing the filibuster.

Today, the Senate will also consider S.3436, a bill to require the imposition of sanctions with respect to entities responsible for the planning, construction, or operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and their corporate officers and to apply congressional review under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to the removal of sanctions relating to Nord Stream 2.  The measure led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), would impose sanctions on the undersea pipeline to Germany viewed as a means of exerting influence over Europe. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has both privately and publicly urged senators to support the bill, casting Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat. The pipeline would give Russia enormous leverage over Europe and would render Ukraine’s own pipeline to Poland obsolete, depriving Ukraine of substantial revenue.  But the Biden administration and its allies in Congress have lobbied against Mr. Cruz’s measure, which would go into effect 15 days after being signed into law, whether or not Russia attacks. They argue that quick passage would undermine unity among the nation’s European allies, including Germany, which has championed the pipeline as vital to its industrial success. They also argue that the sanctions would have little effect on the construction of the pipeline, because it is nearly completed.

The House completed consideration of the House Amendment to Senate Amendment to H.R. 5746 – the John R. Lewis Act and passed the repackaged set of voting rights bills this morning, pushing past Republican opposition and hurriedly sending the legislation to the Senate on a party-line vote of 220 to 203 after a heated partisan debate in which lawmakers clashed over the state of election laws across the country.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.