Democrats preparing for a showdown on Senate debate rules as soon as this week are eyeing an unrelated NASA bill to force the issue.
House leaders had scheduled a vote this week on a bill (H.R. 5746) that would extend the space agency’s authority to lease its property.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the House Rules Committee that was poised to take up the measure before a last-minute change on Monday, said the plan was to use it for voting rights legislation. Two Democrats with knowledge of the discussions confirmed the plan was being discussed.
Because the measure has already been considered by both chambers, it’s an attractive legislative vehicle for leaders looking to expedite action in the Senate. It would only take a simple majority to take up a new version of the bill from the House, rather than the 60-vote supermajority needed to take up most bills.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) forced several votes last year on proceeding to election-related bills, only to be blocked by unified Republican opposition. He said on the Senate floor Tuesday that the chamber will act on voting rights legislation as soon as tomorrow, and that if Republicans “continue paralyzing” the Senate, Democrats “must consider the necessary steps we can take so the Senate can adapt and act.”
A Schumer spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on what strategies are being considered if voting rights legislation doesn’t advance.
The NASA measure could give him the chance to have senators vote on cloture on the bill—and possibly on whether it should be exempted from the rules requiring 60 votes.
“They may or may not get anything done in the Senate,” Cole said. “But this is an avenue to let them get it through without a filibuster if they do it.”
The House passed a version of the NASA bill last year with a 10-year extension by voice vote, and the Senate passed an amended, three-month extension by unanimous consent. The Rules panel, which leaders use to advance their legislative strategy, was set to take up a new House amendment that would have extended leasing authority for 10 years, while also imposing a fee on certain filings with the Federal Election Commission.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) emphasized publicly Tuesday that voting rights hopes remain centered on the Senate moving forward with action.
Jeffries said at a press conference that leaders would “evaluate what the alternatives are” if the bill can’t overcome the filibuster. “But we are not at that point.”
With assistance from Billy House, Nancy Ognanovich, and Zach C. Cohen
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org