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Schumer digs in with ambitious plans for BBB, voting rights

Chuck Schumer heard what Joe Manchin had to say, but the Democratic Senate leader is moving forward on Build Back Better and voting rights anyway.

Conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia jolted the political world yesterday by announcing his opposition to the Build Back Better package. It sparked, among other things, speculation about whether the process had run its course, or whether there was still a chance a bill might yet pass.

In a new letter to his Democratic colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer apparently isn't prepared to give up, at least not yet. After the New York Democrat said he and his colleagues must persevere "despite moments of deep discontent and frustration," Schumer added:

"These are just some of the major issues the Build Back Better Act would immediately address. We were elected to address these many needs and we will not stop fighting until we do. Therefore, Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television. We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done."

The "not just on television" line was hardly subtle — Manchin told Fox News about his rejection of the BBB package before he told Schumer — but also note the majority leader's reference to a vote on a "revised version" of the legislation.

Nearly 24 hours after Manchin's on-air comments, it's still not altogether clear whether the process is over, but Schumer is working from the position that the Senate majority will "get something done."

As for the recent momentum behind voting rights, the Democratic leader also made his intentions clear in his correspondence this morning. From the "Dear Colleagues" letter:

"We all agree that the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. With that in mind, I would ask you to consider this question: if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same? If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation."

Until now, Schumer has not been quite this direct about his plans to advance voting rights through possible rule changes.

The majority leader's letter added, "I believe our constituents deserve to know which Senators choose to hide behind ill-conceived and abused rules and which Senators prefer to restore Senate floor procedures to better align with the Founders' intentions. As Former Senator Robert C. Byrd said in 1979, Senate rules that seemed appropriate in the past 'must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.'"

It was a pointed reference: Byrd was a political giant in West Virginia, and Manchin has said many times he looks up to the late senator and tries to honor Byrd's legacy.

Schumer knows that. It's almost certainly why he quoted Byrd this morning.

The letter concluded with news that Senate Democrats will "hold a virtual Special Caucus" tomorrow night. It's bound to be interesting.