Sen. Whitehouse blazes a path to voting rights passage; will it work?

January 20, 2022

Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon White House (D). Photo of President Franklin Roosevelt in background. Roll Call photo.

As I suspected, some U.S. Senators have been exploring Senate Rules for ways to shut down filibusters and other delaying tactics, but mainly to find a path around Republican filibustering of voting protection legislation.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) laid it out tonight, after Republicans blocked action on the John R. Lewis Act.

It’s likely Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knows this path exists. But if Whitehouse is right, knowing the rules and being able to overcome them are two different things.

Every Senate wonk should take a look at Sen. Whitehouse’s plan.

One is my DISCLOSE Act being in the bill. Republicans must vote against it for their dark-money donors, but that kills them with voters. Ditto gerrymandering. Lots of focus on those painful votes for them in the bill will help.

Another is the Senate speak-twice rule. Senators who’ve spoken twice on a question can be ruled out of order if they keep at it. That’s why real filibusters were long, uninterrupted speeches. Not one and done, but two and done. (Yup, that’s 100 speeches by Rs — sorry!)

The motion to table allows the Senate to clear the decks of amendments. Each requires a vote, but is not debatable. Week after week, even through weekends, table the bad amendments.

“Dilatory” motions, amendments and other delaying mischief can be ruled out of order by the presiding officer. It takes a fair amount of nonsense before it becomes clearly dilatory, but it’s then a simple point of order—no vote.

There can be a vote to overrule the call, which is debatable; but when that fails, whatever motion or amendment was ruled dilatory ends.

So it’s painful, and long, and you have to exhaust Republican speakers and table or stop dilatory motions and amendments, but you can get to a simple majority vote — eventually.

One objection is that the Senate cannot afford to concentrate on one issue for so long. I wager that there is a lot of other business that can be conducted anyway, but Republicans would try to monkeywrench that stuff, too.

Taking a longer perspective, can we afford to let a tiny minority of Americans hold off action while they continue to plot to bring down our government?

Make no mistake that is what this is about.


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