Killing the filibuster becomes new ‘litmus test’ for Democratic candidates

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Senate Democrats lack the votes right now to scrap the filibuster. The midterms may change that.

In three of the most competitive Senate races, Democratic candidates are already campaigning on killing the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for most bills, placing the chamber’s arcane rules at the forefront of the nascent 2022 midterms. Those reform-minded Democrats are running on voting rights legislation, a minimum wage increase and background checks for gun purchases, arguing that they’re only possible through a simple majority vote in the Senate.

If Democrats can expand their 50-seat majority by two or three seats, moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will no longer hold so much sway in a caucus increasingly interested in gutting the chamber’s supermajority threshold once and for all.

“I would be surprised if there’s anyone in any of these [competitive] states… that would support maintaining the filibuster,” said Democratic Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is pursuing his party’s nomination for a Senate seat up for grabs next year. “Getting rid of the filibuster is as close to a litmus test for our party as I can describe.”

It’s basically impossible in 2022 for Democrats to pick up 10 seats and secure a filibuster-proof majority, given the Senate’s current 50-50 split and their limited number of pick-up opportunities across the country. But snatching open seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or North Carolina next fall while holding on elsewhere is a plausible way for Democrats to squash the legislative filibuster in 2023, provided they hold their House majority as well.

Fetterman and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, the first official candidates in what’s likely to be a crowded primary in Pennsylvania, both support abolishing the filibuster. Among North Carolina Democratic Senate hopefuls, former state Sen. Erica Smith supports abolishing the filibuster, while state Sen. Jeff Jackson referred to himself in an interview as “filibuster-skeptical.”

Both of the announced Senate candidates in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, are running on an anti-filibuster platform. Lasry said it’s a “relic of the past.”

“I will make it an issue [in the primary] and I will make it an issue in the general so that the Republican nominee, whether it’s Ron Johnson or someone else, defends it. There’s absolutely no defense,” Nelson said.

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