That would return the filibuster to something more like we imagine it to be: Impassioned minorities could hold the floor with theatrical speeches, shining public attention on their arguments, but the majority could end debate if the minority relented. To sustain this kind of filibuster would be grueling, which is as it should be. The filibuster is an extraordinary measure, and it should require extraordinary commitment to deploy.
The majority, for its part, would have to carefully weigh the consequences of proceeding with partisan legislation: They would gamble weeks or months of Senate time if they chose to face down a filibuster, with no guarantee of passage on the other end. A reform like this would demand more from both the majority and the minority and ignite the kinds of lengthy, public debates that the Senate was once known for.
In leaked audio published by The Intercept on Wednesday, Manchin appeared to favor exactly this kind of change. “I think, basically, it should be 41 people have to force the issue versus the 60 that we need in the affirmative,” he said.
In addition to changing the rules, Manchin could embrace his role as a broker of legislative compromise. His leverage is immense, and he could use it to force Republicans as well as Democrats to the table. But on voting rights, at least, Manchin hasn’t been wielding his power symmetrically.
“The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen,” Manchin wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail this month.
In suggesting that he would oppose any voting reform that was not bipartisan, Manchin offered Republicans a veto over the legislation rather than a choice between partisan and bipartisan bills. He was not asking of them what he was asking of his colleagues, or even of himself.
But on Wednesday, news broke that Manchin’s position was shifting. He is circulating a compromise voting rights memo that he believes could serve as the basis for a bipartisan bill. It eliminates much of what Democrats wanted, like the more ambitious campaign finance reforms, but it bans partisan gerrymandering, restores key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, makes Election Day a public holiday and puts in place automatic voter registration. It also includes some Republican priorities, like mandating that voters show certain forms of identification.