Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the pivotal Senate swing vote, made clear on Tuesday that he remains deeply skeptical of overhauling the chamber’s rules on a simple majority basis to advance voting legislation, a clear sign that a frantic push by Democrats to win his support to change the filibuster and pass one of the party’s core priorities is likely doomed.
The comments from Manchin come as his party is launching a full-court press to pressure him and fellow moderate Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to back changes to the filibuster that would allow Democrats to pass voting legislation.
Schumer has set a deadline of January 17 – Martin Luther King Day – for the Senate to vote on a rules change if Republicans continue to block the legislation. But Manchin and Sinema have repeatedly made clear they oppose getting rid of the filibuster, which sets up a 60-vote threshold that requires bipartisan cooperation for most legislation to pass in the current Senate where Democrats control only 50 seats.
Manchin and Sinema have repeatedly voiced concerns over the long-term ramifications for the country if a majority could work its will over the minority party without being reined in by the filibuster.
Asked by CNN if he’s open to using the nuclear option – a process that could be used to override filibuster rules by a simple majority vote – to pass changes to voting laws, Manchin expressed skepticism, saying that would be a “heavy lift.”
“The reason I say it’s a heavy lift is once you change a rule or you have a carve out, I’ve always said this – Anytime there’s a carve out, you eat the whole turkey. There’s nothing left because it comes back and forth,” he said.
Manchin has previously indicated that any rules changes should be done on a bipartisan basis, meaning that he would be opposed to nuking the filibuster along party lines to pass voting legislation. The West Virginia reiterated on Tuesday that remains his position, saying, “that’s my absolute preference” when asked whether he would not be open to changing the rules without Republican buy-in.
“I’ve always been for rules being done the way we’ve always done, two-thirds of the members voting. Any way you can do a rules change to where everyone’s involved, that’s a rule that usually will stay. That’s what we should be pursing,” Manchin said.
Democrats are under intense pressure to pass voting legislation, a key priority for their voters. That pressure has only intensified now that President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a bill to expand the social safety net and fight climate change, is stalled after Manchin indicated he could not support it in its current form.
Senate Republicans have blocked earlier attempts by Democrats to pass voting bills, decrying them as reckless and unnecessary partisan overreach. Each time, liberal activists have intensified calls for Senate Democrats to get rid of or make changes to the filibuster so that Democrats could pass voting bills with just 51 votes and without Republican support.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged in an interview on CNN on Tuesday that Manchin and Sinema are not on board yet with the push to change the filibuster to pass voting legislation, but said Democrats are working to pressure them to change their minds.
“Rules have been changed in the past. That’s an important point we’re making to (Sen.) Manchin and Sen. Sinema,” Schumer said. “When circumstances change, the rules must change. Well wow, circumstances have sure changed with this new Republican party.”
Manchin said he is willing to talk about what options exist, but he indicated he has not committed to any changes.
“I’m talking. I’m not agreeing to any of this to the extent, I want to talk and see all the options we have open. That’s what we’re looking at,” Manchin said.
“We’re still (having) ongoing conversations as far as on voting because I think the bedrock of democracy is making sure you’re able to cast a vote. If you’re legal, of age, and a United States citizen, you should be able to cast a vote and it should be counted accurately,” he said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on Tuesday they are looking at two major changes to filibuster rules: Forcing senators to hold the floor when they filibuster — a so-called talking filibuster — or a carveout to allow voting rights legislation to advance with 51 votes, rather than 60.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.