At least two Democratic senators, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, have said they would not participate in such an effort, arguing it would cause irreparable harm to the Senate. Mr Manchin opposed the earlier changes and on Tuesday reiterated his restraint despite his support for the voting rights laws.
“I mean, voting is very important. It is a foundation of democracy,” Mr Manchin told reporters. “But to cut the chance for the minority to participate fully — that’s just not who we are.”
As part of the effort to win their support, Democrats brought in two Harvard professors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” on Tuesday for a lunchtime presentation of their book, which examines how political leaders gradually undermine democracy to strengthen their power.
Despite some claims to the contrary, the filibuster is not enshrined in the constitution, nor was it mandated by the nation’s founders, though they did call for supermajorities on things like treaties. It has evolved through changes in Senate rules over the centuries, and in the 20th century is most associated with attempts by segregationist Southern states to block civil rights laws — an ugly past that Democrats claim is being repeated today.
The filibuster has been changed repeatedly — and turned completely upside down for nominations and some budget bills. In recent years, it has become an almost constant phenomenon in the Senate as both sides relied on it to thwart opposition, often bringing the chamber to a halt and making legislation impossible, except in crisis situations such as the pandemic and serious economic threats.
But the idea of changing the filibuster has been met with a backlash from Senate Republicans led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who threatens retaliation if Democrats continue.
Frustrated like many of his colleagues, Mr Manchin has expressed support for demanding senators to engage in a talking filibuster and keep the floor while blocking legislation. Many Americans recognize this scenario from the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” when the naive but principled Senator played by Jimmy Stewart took the floor at a talkathon to stop land grabs.