In recent weeks, Senate Republicans have railed against a Democratic proposal to change the filibuster because they want to be able to block President Joe Biden’s agenda as they did with former President Barack Obama. But Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) signaled on Wednesday that he would support changing the Senate’s rules if Republicans block voting rights legislation.
The Maine Senator, who has long been viewed as wary of changing the filibuster, laid out his thinking in a Washington Post op-ed, saying he viewed voting rights as a “special case.”
“All-out opposition to reasonable voting rights protections cannot be enabled by the filibuster; if forced to choose between a Senate rule and democracy itself, I know where I will come down,” King wrote.
The House passed an elections and ethics reform bill earlier this month, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged that he will give it a vote in the upper chamber. Without changes to the filibuster, the bill would need 60 votes — something it could not get with no Republicans currently supporting the legislation.
Republicans have claimed that the legislation would benefit Democrats because it would make it easy for people to vote.
Democrats don’t currently have the votes to nix the filibuster, which would require the support of all 50 members of their caucus. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are on the record in opposition to getting rid of the 60-vote threshold and several others have voiced concerns.
King admonished progressives in his op-ed on Wednesday, saying they “seem to have forgotten or are willing to ignore” that the filibuster could help block GOP policies once Republicans are back in the majority.
Democrats say the next steps will include bringing up some of the party’s big priorities that unify the caucus, and testing whether or not they can overcome a filibuster.
The strategy is two-fold: It will make Republicans go on the record in opposition and could demonstrate to Democrats wary of reforming the legislative filibuster that much of their agenda will be stuck in limbo without reforms.
King hinted at that strategy, writing in the Post that “the question for me is how [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues will play their hand.”
“[If] they just say no, the necessity — and likelihood — of filibuster reform would only increase. That is to say, in large measure the outcome is in their hands,” King wrote.
King’s op-ed comes as Senate Democrats are eyeing the next phase in their discussions over what to do about the filibuster.