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Politics: Manchin floats modest Senate rules changes

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday night floated smaller changes to the Senate rules that would stop short of the filibuster reforms being pushed for by many of his Democratic colleagues.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) addresses reporters to discuss Covid-19 on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. He also took questions regarding Build Back Better and other legislative issues. © Greg Nash Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) addresses reporters to discuss Covid-19 on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. He also took questions regarding Build Back Better and other legislative issues.

Manchin, coming out of a meeting with Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats involved in the negotiations, didn't pledge to vote for any specific rules reforms but appeared open to smaller changes.

"I think the filibuster needs to stay in place, any way shape or form that we can do it," Manchin said, asked about keeping the current rule that requires most legislation to get 60 votes to advance through the Senate.

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Manchin added that he was still "optimistic" that Republicans could back smaller changes to the Senate rules with an eye toward making it easier to get bills onto the Senate floor for debate.

One idea Manchin said he would support would be getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle currently required to start debate on legislation. Manchin has raised potentially scrapping the procedural roadblock in talks he's had with GOP senators on the Senate's rules.

"That's a rule change I would think Republicans-they've been for that before," Manchin said, while noting that it wouldn't change the ability for Republicans to use the filibuster to block senators from ending debate on the bill and moving to final passage.

Manchin also said that he wanted to put "power back in the hands of committees." Senators have previously discussed streamlining the ability for bills that come out of Senate committees with significant support to be able to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Currently one senator can block a quick vote and force leadership to eat up days of floor time and overcome the 60-vote filibuster.

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Manchin said that Democrats were also talking about the idea of a talking filibuster, where opponents could slow down a bill for as long as they could hold the floor, but there were questions about how under such a change "how do you get off of it."


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Supporters of a talking filibuster want to structure it so that opponents can delay a bill for as long as they can hold the Senate floor. But after they are done talking senators would then be able to pass a bill with a simple majority, effectively nixing the current 60-vote threshold required for most bills to advance in the Senate.

But Manchin indicated that he still wants to keep a supermajority requirement to end debate, but that he was supportive of changing it from requiring 60 votes needed to break a filibuster to three-fifths of senators present and voting. Under that shift, senators could break a filibuster with fewer than 60 votes if there were absences.

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"It puts pressure on both sides," Manchin said. "I'm for three fifths, voting. ...That to me makes a lot of sense."

The meeting with Manchin comes as Schumer has vowed to force a vote on chances to the Senate's legislative filibuster by Jan. 17 if Republicans block voting rights legislation, as they are expected to. Republicans have used the filibuster to block two election-related bills and a separate legislation earlier this year to expand and strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Schumer, during a press conference earlier Tuesday with reporters, said that there had been "many serious discussions" with Manchin about potential changes to the Senate's rules.

"Manchin of course would prefer to deal with Republicans," Schumer said. "But I believe he knows that we will not get any Republican cooperation."

To change the rules without GOP support, Democrats would need to use the nuclear option that allows them to force through rules changes by a simple majority. Because the Senate is evenly divided, that would require the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus and Vice President Harris in the chair to break a tie.

But Manchin hasn't committed to backing a party line rules change, even if it left the filibuster intact, and said earlier Tuesday that it his preference that any reforms to the Senate's rules are bipartisan.

In addition to Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has indicated recently that she remains supportive of the 60-vote legislative filibuster and wary of the idea of creating a carve out that would exempt voting rights from the hurdle while leaving it in place for other bills.

Manchin declined to say how he would vote if Schumer forces the rules vote, telling reporters that, "I'm not going to say yes or no because I don't know what votes are going to come to the floor."

As voting rights push fizzles, Biden's failure to unite his own party looms again .
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, both Democrats, said Thursday they were against filibuster changes, spoiling Biden's efforts to pass voting rights.On Thursday, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, dealt a potentially fatal blow to Biden’s renewed push for federal voting rights legislation. In a surprise speech on the Senate floor, she flatly rejected Biden’s plea – issued less than 48 hours earlier – to change the filibuster rules so Democrats could muscle through the voting rights bill without any Republican votes.

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