Senate Democrats to meet Tuesday on Build Back Better, filibuster rule change

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are set to hold a special caucus meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the next step for the Build Back Better Act and voting rights legislation.

The meeting, expected to take place virtually at 8 p.m. ET, comes at a precarious moment for President Joe Biden’s signature legislation. A key figure, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday he could not vote for the House-passed version, throwing its prospects into doubt and leaving the White House scrambling to salvage it.

“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues on Monday.

In announcing the special meeting, Schumer notified colleagues they would also discuss whether to change filibuster rules in order to allow a vote on sweeping legislation aimed at expanding access to the ballot box and safeguarding against election subversion. That legislation is a high priority of Biden, Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates.

Schumer said the Senate would vote on a revised version of the Build Back Better Act and a potential rules change — if Republicans don’t drop the filibuster — early in the new year.

Both endeavors hinge, in large part, on Manchin, the linchpin of the 50-50 Senate, who hails from ruby-red West Virginia. His office has not said whether he’ll take part in the Tuesday meeting.

Schumer said that “the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” and accused Republicans of using the filibuster to protect “voter suppression and election nullification laws” in GOP-led states.

“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation,” he wrote.

The remarks represent the closest Schumer has come to endorsing changes to the filibuster in order to pass an election overhaul. For more than a year, Schumer has tread carefully around the issue, saying only that all options are on the table.

Senate Democrats have a majority of votes to pass the Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but Republicans are using the filibuster to prevent both bills from coming to a vote. But piercing the filibuster would require the 50 votes, which Democrats don’t currently have.

Schumer made clear the Senate would hold that vote, forcing Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who also supports the 60-vote threshold, to make their position known on the floor.

“Members will be given the chance to debate on the Senate floor and cast a vote so that their choice on this matter is clear and available for everyone to see,” Schumer wrote in the letter.

Manchin has been a firm opponent of invoking the so-called nuclear option, which both parties have used in the past to change Senate rules with a simple majority.

In his letter Schumer, a New York Democrat, quoted Robert C. Byrd, the former senator whose seat Manchin now holds, saying that Senate rules that previously made sense “must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.”

Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin contributed.