Democrats confront stubborn math in final voting rights push: The Note

If it seems dizzying, that may be because the party is back where it started.

December 16, 2021, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

You could track the year by charting Democrats' frustrations – around messaging failures, legislative logjams, bad breaks of luck and, always, simple congressional math.

So it is that the party goes into a final week or so of potential lawmaking in 2021 with anger and infighting that will follow it well into 2022. Realistic chances of passing the Build Back Better bill before Christmas are out the window because nothing has fundamentally changed about what it takes to get 50 Senate votes.

In its place at the moment is a last push around federal voting rights protections -- bills for which the threshold, at least for now, is 60 votes. Democrats maneuvered around the 60-vote hurdle this week to raise the debt ceiling, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., is leading the charge for that to be seen as a precedent.

PHOTO: Sen. Raphael Warnock talks to reporters as he arrives for a vote while the Senate continues to grapple with end-of-year tasks and the future of the President's social and environmental spending bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 15, 2021.
Sen. Raphael Warnock talks to reporters as he arrives for a vote while the Senate continues to grapple with end-of-year tasks and the future of President Joe Biden's social and environmental spending bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 15, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

"We need to acknowledge that the ceiling of our democracy is crashing in on us; it needs to be raised and repaired," Warnock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding that the Senate shouldn't leave Washington for the holidays until Democrats agree on a path to get voting bills to the floor.

But Republicans won't cooperate on changing vote thresholds for voting bills. That brings things back where they've always been – to Sen. Joe Manchin's willingness to ditch filibuster rules under even limited circumstances.

If it all seems dizzying, that may be because Democrats are back where they started despite all the twists and turns the year has brought.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

President Joe Biden's promise of canceling a portion of federal student loan debt remains unfulfilled.

Biden campaigned on canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower, but almost a year into his first term he has taken no action to do that. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed the finger at Congress when asked about it.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Dec. 15, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Dec. 15, 2021, in Washington.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

"If Congress sends him a bill, he's happy to sign it. They haven't sent him a bill on that yet," she said Tuesday.

Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, believe Biden has the authority to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower through executive action. Psaki's sidestep comes as borrowers prepare to resume student loan repayment Feb. 1, after an interest-free pause on payments due to the pandemic.

It comes as fears mount over the rapid spread of the omicron variant and the uncertain fate of Biden's social spending plan. Progressives are sounding the alarm on possible consequences at the ballot box in 2022.

"Forcing millions to start paying student loans again and cutting off the Child Tax Credit at the start of an election year is not a winning strategy," tweeted Missouri Rep. Cori Bush. "We're warning you now, don't point fingers in November."

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

During an event that had the makings of a campaign rally on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced the "Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act" which his office says aims to give "businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination."

The proposed legislation would enshrine the Florida Department of Education's decision earlier this year to prohibit critical race theory in K-12 schools. In doing so, the proposal would grant parents, employees and students a "private right of action" to sue if they believed critical race theory was being taught.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Daytona Beach, Fla., Nov. 22, 2021.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Daytona Beach, Fla., Nov. 22, 2021.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE

The move heightens tensions surrounding an escalating national culture war leading into the 2022 midterms. It also appears to mimic the structure of Texas' abortion bill that allows citizens to sue anyone they believe could have aided a pregnant person's pursuit of an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

"You think about what MLK stood for. He said he didn't want people judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don't talk about that," the governor said about the proposal, invoking the civil rights icon.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here on Thursday morning begins with the latest on COVID. ABC's Anne Flaherty reports on omicron's growing effect on our lives. Then, ABC's Rebecca Jarvis explains the new game plan of the Federal Reserve in the face of growing inflation. And, ABC’s Ian Pannell describes the worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Joe Biden will award the Medal of Honor to three soldiers, including the first Black service member to be honored with the military's top combat award since Sept. 11, at 1:30 p.m. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with the COVID-19 Response Team to discuss the omicron variant at 3 p.m.
  • The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing to consider the nomination of Neil Harvey MacBride as general counsel for the Department of the Treasury at 10 a.m.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts Dr. Anthony Fauci to discuss COVID-19 and the omicron variant at 1 p.m.
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