Filibuster Reform Coalition Grows Ahead of Fall Fight Over Voting Rights

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised, "Voting rights will be the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to session in September."

The largest filibuster reform coalition is adding 20 new groups to its membership and expanding an ongoing seven-figure ad buy as the Senate prepares to return from its summer recess for the long-anticipated showdown over voting rights legislation and the chamber’s filibuster rules.

The new groups joining the Fix Our Senate coalition include Vote Save America, Demos, Physicians for Reproductive Health, People For the American Way and Faith for Black Lives, among others, according to news first shared with HuffPost.

The groups, added to the 60 already in the coalition, will bring additional resources and membership rolls to bear in the campaign to pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority vote. In addition, Fix Our Senate members and other voting rights advocates are planning a spate of rallies, door-knocking campaigns and other advocacy efforts to pressure Democrats to end the filibuster and get voting rights legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk.

“We are going to be able to show senators and the Biden administration that this isn’t going away,” Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Fix Our Senate, said. “If anyone thinks they can just wait this out and advocates and people around the country will just move on and get distracted by other things, we want to make it clear that that’s not going to happen.”

The filibuster, as it currently exists, will allow Senate Republicans to continue to block two key pieces of legislation meant to combat voting restrictions on the state level: the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Henry Lewis, the brother of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), helps with delivering a petition to the White House calling on President Joe Biden to leverage the power of his office and publicly urge the Senate to end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.
Henry Lewis, the brother of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), helps with delivering a petition to the White House calling on President Joe Biden to leverage the power of his office and publicly urge the Senate to end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.
Paul Morigi via Getty Images

Both the For The People Act — a sweeping package of voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting and ethics reforms — and the John Lewis voting law, which would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gutted by the conservative Supreme Court, have passed the House with zero Republican support. All 50 Senate Republicans oppose the For The People Act and have now twice used filibusters to block floor debate on it; just one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, supports the John Lewis voting bill.

“It is now crystal clear that there’s absolutely no chance that they will pass any kind of voting rights or democracy protection mechanism as long as the filibuster remains intact,” Zupnick said.

That means the question of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to proceed to debate or vote on a bill, will be central to the work on voting rights that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised for this fall.

“Voting rights will be the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to session in September,” Schumer said on the Senate floor after Republicans blocked debate on the For The People Act for a second time on Aug. 11.

Schumer has also stated in response to questions about changing the filibuster rules that “everything is on the table” to pass voting rights legislation and that “failure is not an option.”

Despite his support for both the For The People Act and the John Lewis voting law and his declaration that the onslaught of anti-voter laws enacted in Republican-run states is “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden has not spent significant time or energy working to pass voting rights legislation. Advocates believe that his involvement will be necessary to get Senate Democrats to change filibuster rules to pass voting rights bills.

“We want to see President Biden take his words and put them into action and use the full power of the presidency to make phone calls and to hold meetings like we saw him do with the American Rescue Plan and like he did with infrastructure,” said Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy, the main coalition pushing the For The People Act. “We know he can lean in and we need to see that.”

Advocates hope that Biden’s involvement could help move pro-filibuster Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) to join other Democrats in changing filibuster rules to allow voting rights bills to pass.

A “Finish The Job” rally at the Capitol is already planned for Sept. 14, the day the Senate returns from its recess, to pressure the Senate to pass the bill and to push Biden to expend more energy to help pass voting rights legislation. Related rallies across the country are also planned for Constitution Day (Sept. 17) and National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 24).

Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), left, is arrested by Capitol Police as 19 voting rights activists hold a protest in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building on July 15.
Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), left, is arrested by Capitol Police as 19 voting rights activists hold a protest in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building on July 15.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

These events follow an active summer in which advocates held rallies or events every other week to push for Senate passage of voting rights legislation. State lawmakers, led by Democratic state legislators from Texas, flew in from states where Republicans threatened to pass or already passed anti-voter laws to lobby senators. Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) were arrested as they joined activists in civil disobedience actions in support of voting rights bills, as were other activists at a protest at the White House. Rallies, lobbying days and meetings cropped up across the country, including key states like Arizona and West Virginia.

At an August rally calling on the Senate to pass voting rights legislation before heading to recess, a number of Democratic senators — from Raphael Warnock (Ga.) to Bob Casey (Penn.) — called for the end of the filibuster for voting rights legislation.

Beyond rallies, groups in the Declaration for American Democracy and Fix Our Senate coalition have run door-knocking and phone- and text-banking efforts to contact voters in key states. End Citizens United, a Democratic Party-aligned political action committee that supports campaign finance reforms, ran its largest-ever campaign, to the tune of $25 million so far, in support of the bills this year. The group was the first to run ads calling for changes to the filibuster to pass voting rights bills and continues to run digital ads in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and West Virginia.

The summer actions culminated in the March for Voting Rights rallies on the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. Martin Luther King III, his son, helped lead the commemorative rally last month, and called on the Senate to end the filibuster to pass voting rights laws, echoing his father’s criticism of the filibuster as a tool used by white supremacists to thwart civil rights advances.

“The biggest monument to white supremacy remains and if we don’t tear it down, nothing else matters,” the younger King said of the filibuster.

Whether or not that happens will be determined when the Senate returns in two weeks.