On Monday, Utah Sen. Mike Lee called an effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to change the Senate filibuster rules a “rash, partisan power grab” that would result in suffering for Utahns and the American people.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would force a vote by Jan. 17 on changing the Senate’s rules if Republicans continue to block voting rights legislation that has been tied up since last year. Current rules require a 60-vote supermajority to end debate on a proposal and proceed to a vote. That’s a difficult proposition in the evenly-divided Senate. Democrats only have a majority because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote. Republicans have used the 60-vote threshold to stop voting rights and election reform bills
In a letter sent to his Democratic colleagues, Schumer argued the preservation of voting rights has become such an important issue that they must consider changing the rules to get around the GOP-led roadblock, making a direct connection to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“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 non-partisan election administration functions,” Schumer wrote.
In a statement, Lee, a Republcian, ripped Schumer’s letter, saying changing the long-standing rules is “absurd and dangerous to the institution itself.”
Lee also warned changing the rules would turn the Senate into a “strictly majoritarian, Lord-of-the-Flies environment.”
Sen. Mitt Romney signaled late Monday he would not favor a rule change.
“Getting 100% of what 1 (sic) party wants isn’t ‘functioning;’ it’s destroying,” Romney tweeted in response to a quote from Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley about altering the rules.
In his letter, Schumer pointed out it’s not unusual for the Senate to change its rules when necessary.
“The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before. The Senate was designed to evolve and has evolved many times in our history,” Schumer wrote.
Lee has supported previous changes to the filibuster backed by Republicans when they’ve been in control of the Senate.
In 2013, the Democratic majority eliminated the 60-vote supermajority rule for all nominations other than for the Supreme Court. Four years later the Republican majority killed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees after Democrats filibustered the nomination of Neil Gorsuch.
The possible reforms to the filibuster could range from outright elimination to a so-called “talking filibuster” that requires the opposition party to hold the Senate floor through debate.