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Activists from various grassroots organizations rally outside City Hall in Los Angeles on July 7, 2021, calling on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other senators to remove the filibuster and pass the "For the People Act" to expand voting rights. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Activists from various grassroots groups rally outside City Hall in Los Angeles on July 7, 2021, calling on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other senators to abolish the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Schumer Vows to Change Senate Rules to Protect US Democracy by January 17

"The attacks on our democracy have not ceased. In fact, they have only accelerated," he said, declaring that "the Senate must evolve" to pass "urgently needed voting rights legislation."

Jessica Corbett

Just days before the first anniversary of a right-wing attack on the U.S. Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday announced a new deadline for Democrats to change the upper chamber's rules to end Republican obstruction of pro-democracy legislation.

"January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness—an effort to delegitimize our election process."

"We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a letter to Democratic senators. "But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections."

Along with outlining the "next steps on urgently needed voting rights legislation," Schumer called out the GOP for not only blocking multiple bills but also engaging in other attacks on U.S. democracy—including claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, the "Big Lie" that encouraged a mob to invade the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

"As we all are witnessing, the attacks on our democracy have not ceased. In fact, they have only accelerated," Schumer wrote. "Much like the violent insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol nearly one year ago, Republican officials in states across the country have seized on the former president's Big Lie about widespread voter fraud to enact anti-democratic legislation and seize control of typically nonpartisan election administration functions."

"Let me be clear: January 6th was a symptom of a broader illness—an effort to delegitimize our election process," he continued, "and the Senate must advance systemic democracy reforms to repair our republic or else the events of that day will not be an aberration—they will be the new norm."

Schumer is far from alone in issuing such a warning. According to a Brennan Center for Justice analysis published last month, the GOP's "tidal wave of restrictive voting legislation" is expected to continue this year after at least 19 states enacted 34 voter suppression laws in 2021.

GOP anti-voter laws and gerrymandering have fueled demands—including in a letter from 60 progressive groups on Monday—for Senate Democrats to reform or abolish the filibuster so they can pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the House-approved John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which were blocked by the chamber's Republicans last year.

Though Schumer's letter did not specifically mention the filibuster—which enables the GOP to block most legislation—he wrote:

The Senate was designed to protect the political rights of the minority in the chamber, through the promise of debate and the opportunity to amend. But over the years, those rights have been warped and contorted to obstruct and embarrass the will of [the] majority—something our founders explicitly opposed. The Constitution specified what measures demanded a supermajority—including impeachment or the ratification of treaties. But they explicitly rejected supermajority requirements for legislation, having learned firsthand of such a requirement's defects under the Articles of Confederation. The weaponization of rules once meant to short-circuit obstruction have been hijacked to guarantee obstruction.

We must ask ourselves: if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?

"We must adapt," the Democratic leader declared. "The Senate must evolve."

The primary barriers to filibuster reform have been Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Politico reports that Democratic lawmakers have "met quietly with Manchin to gauge his openness to changing Senate rules," and "while an outright elimination is off the table, Democrats are trying to see whether Manchin and Sinema are open to other proposals, like bringing back the talking filibuster."

Responding to Schumer's announcement in a statement Monday, Martin Luther King III, chairman of the Drum Major Institute, said that "there is no better way to honor my father's legacy than protecting the right to vote for all Americans."

"The King holiday is historically a day of service, and we hope the United States Senate will serve our democracy by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," he added. "We applaud Sen. Schumer for his commitment to expanding voting rights, but we won't halt our plans for action until legislation has been signed."

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