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Frustrations are building among congressional Democrats as the party’s priorities pile up in the Senate.

Legislation granting statehood to Washington, D.C., approved by the House on Thursday, is just the latest big agenda item that is set to stall out on the other side of Capitol Hill.

In the majority-run House, Democrats are passing the party’s big priorities along party lines. In the Senate, Republicans can block most legislation with the filibuster, putting the focus on approving President Biden’s nominees and moving smaller bipartisan measures.

Irritation between members of the same party over the differences between the chambers are a time-honored tradition, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying to those living through them.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) characterized himself as “frustrated.”

“Hopefully, at some point in time, the people themselves will say to the United States Senate, and their representatives in the United States Senate will say, it is undemocratic, with a small D. It is un-American to have the minority hold the majority hostage,” Hoyer told reporters.

A group of House Democrats held a press conference on Thursday to urge Senate Democrats to get rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

“My constituents do not care about arcane Senate rules and procedures. … We have sent bill after bill after bill to that side of the Capitol,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a military veteran who flipped a red seat in 2018.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that if Democrats let the filibuster block big pieces of the party’s agenda there would be blowback in the next election.

“They’re either not going to come out and vote for you next time or they’re going to vote for the other guy,” she said.

Democrats pledged to go “bold” if they won back control of Congress, with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowing to shake off the chamber’s “legislative graveyard” status after House Democrats watched their priorities get ignored by the GOP-controlled Senate in the final two years of the Trump administration.

“Today, with the filibuster in place, with Democrats in control in the Senate, it’s still Mitch McConnell’s graveyard,” Jayapal said, referring to the Senate Republican leader.

House Democrats have already passed a laundry list of big priorities for Biden and progressives: a sweeping election reform bill, a bill to expand background checks, legal protections for some undocumented immigrants, a measure strengthening the voting rights bill and LGBTQ protections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to weigh in on the filibuster debate, saying whether or not Democrats would “have any progress on all these fronts … well, that’s a debate for the Senate.”

Democrats don’t have the 50 votes needed to nix the filibuster and change the rules, a perennial sore spot for the party’s base.

“You know I’d abolish the filibuster tomorrow. I’m sick and tired of what’s been happening in the gridlock in the Senate on voting rights and on so many other things,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said during an interview with MSNBC.

But the problem is bigger than just the legislative filibuster. Some parts of the party’s agenda don’t even have 50 votes in the Senate.

There are still five Senate Democrats who haven’t signed on to a bill supporting D.C. statehood. That puts the bill short of the votes needed to pass even if Democrats got rid of the filibuster.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who supports D.C. statehood, called linking nixing the filibuster to getting rid of D.C. statehood “premature.”

“I don’t think just in a matter of what we’re going to be dealing with – the biggest priority is infrastructure and voting rights, those are the first two. So I don’t foresee there’s going to be floor action on this anytime soon, so I would say let’s get through the things that are the ones that we have kind of embraced as the urgent ones,” Kaine said. 

Senate Democrats are digging in on infrastructure. And after passing an anti-Asian hate crimes bill, they are expected to spend next week on Biden nominees and a water bill. 

Schumer is supportive of D.C. statehood, which he described as “an idea whose time has come,” but hasn’t pledged to give it a vote.

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“We’re going to do everything we can to pass it,” he told reporters.

It’s isn’t just D.C. statehood – the Rules Committee will mark up a sweeping election reform bill early next month. But it’s deeply opposed by Republicans, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has drawn a line saying that any bill should be bipartisan, potentially depriving it of 50 votes. 

After eight Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing a $15 per hour minimum wage proposal in coronavirus relief legislation, the issue has largely fallen to the backburner. Other buzzy progressive goals, including the Green New Deal or expanding the Supreme Court, lose more Democratic support and are unlikely to get brought to the House floor, much less the Senate.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who made an unsuccessful bid for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, said he didn’t support expanding the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think the American public is interested in having the Supreme Court expanded,” he said.

Instead, the strategy on the filibuster among Senate Democrats is to bring up bills that garner 50 votes within their own caucus. The hope is two-fold: First, that it will force Republicans to go on the record against popular ideas, and second, it will show holdouts that without changes, big pieces of their agenda won’t be able to make it to Biden’s desk.

“We can’t just assume that they’ll block them. We have to give them opportunities to get on board and then if they block things that we have a mandate to do … that will also be instructive,” Kaine said.

There are some signs of bipartisan progress on certain issues.

After police reform stalled out last year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) say they are making progress and are hoping for language in a matter of weeks.

But Bass also acknowledged that there was frustration among House Democrats about the lack of progress on bills being sent over to the Senate, saying: “Of course. Of course there is.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is leading a bipartisan group that he says includes 10 Republicans – the number needed to break a filibuster – on immigration reform that would marry protections for “Dreamers” and agricultural workers with some border elements like more immigration judges or technology.

And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is holding talks with Republicans on gun reforms, predicting he’ll know by the end of next month if there’s likely to be an agreement.

If the talks fall apart, however, it’s likely to pour fuel onto calls from those within their own party to change the rules.

“The Republicans make the case that the filibuster is an incentive for bipartisanship,” Murphy said. “So let’s test the theory. Let’s see if Republicans really do come to the table on an issue like guns. If they don’t, given how much I’m willing to engage, then it’s increased evidence that the current rules don’t work.

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McCarthy officially endorses Stefanik over Cheney in GOP House vote

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Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy for the first time on Sunday officially endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Rep. Liz Cheney in her leadership post, saying Republicans need a unified conference to battle the Biden administration’s agenda.

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Texas Senate approves bill allowing people to carry handguns without license

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The Texas State Senate has voted to advance a bill that will allow people to carry handguns in the state without a license, setting up the state the be the largest in the country to allow permitless carry.

The legislation passed by an 18-13 margin along party lines Wednesday evening. The bill would allow people 21 and older who can already legally own a gun to carry a handgun in public without the license, safety course and background check current law requires.

The bill now heads to the House, which passed similar legislation earlier this year but will not consider changes the Senate made to the bill before sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk.

The Senate passage of the legislation marks a significant victory for gun rights activists and Republicans, who had seen permitless carry legislation go nowhere in previous legislative sessions.

“HB 1927 would recognize the United States Constitution as our permit to carry and allow all law-abiding adults, aged 21 years or older, to carry a handgun for the protection of themselves or their families, in public places, in a holster, without the requirement of a state-issued license,” said State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R), a sponsor of the bill.

“People who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun under this bill,” he added. “Nothing in this bill regarding possession is changed.” 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) also hailed the passage of the bill, touting it as evidence of Texas’s strong support of the Second Amendment.

“I am proud that the Texas Senate passed House Bill 1927 today, the Constitutional Carry bill, which affirms every Texan’s right to self-defense and our state’s strong support for our Second Amendment right to bear arms. In the Lone Star State, the Constitution is our permit to carry,” he said in a statement. “We have moved quickly on this legislation and I want to thank all those involved who helped gather the votes needed to pass this historic bill.”  

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Democrats panned the bill as dangerous, warning that criminals would slip through the cracks and end up carrying guns if they do not have to go through the licensing process. The Department of Public Safety denied 2,422 license to carry applicants last year, with the majority of denials stemming from past criminal convictions. 

“More criminals are going to walk around with guns openly, I promise you,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (R) said during floor debate, according to The Dallas Morning News. “More vigilantes are going to rise up.” 
Twenty other states allow some form of permitless carry.


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DeSantis signs GOP-drafted voting bill, legal fight begins

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that he and other Republicans said would place guardrails against fraud, even as they acknowledged there were no serious signs of voting irregularities last November. Democrats and voter rights advocates said the partisan move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots.

The Republican governor signed the freshly passed legislation ahead of his impending announcement that he’ll run for reelection in the nation’s largest battleground state. He staged the signing on a live broadcast of Fox & Friends Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County. Other media organizations were shut out of the event.

DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.

“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed it. “We’re also banning ballot harvesting. We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

Republicans have previously said they know of know such problems in Florida, and elections supervisors across the state did not ask for any of the changes, warning that some of the new rules may prove cumbersome and expensive to implement.

Groups including the NAACP and Common Cause said they would immediately file a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are Black, Latino or disabled to vote.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they planned to file in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital.

While Georgia has become the current epicenter of the national battle over elections laws, other states — led by Republicans still unsettled by then-President Donald Trump’s loss in November — have moved to rewrite elections laws. The national campaign to do so is motivated by Trump’s unfounded allegations that irregularities in the election process, particularly in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, led to his loss — a baseless claim that inspired the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Georgia law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Some of the changes in Florida’s election rules contain similar provisions. Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law won’t be as draconian as the one recently adopted by its neighbor to the north.

The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature passed the law without a single Democratic vote, even as Florida Republicans have hailed their state as a model for conducting elections. This disconnect has confounded Democrats, voter rights groups and statewide elections officials who see no need for the changes.

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But Republicans countered that the new law is a preemptive move against those who would undermine the sanctity of the ballot box, even if they could not cite specific instances of widespread fraud. Republicans argue that the new rules do nothing to keep people from voting.

The newly signed law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and would only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.

It requires that a voter making changes to registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number.

The governor’s signature extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet (50 meters) around polling places. And elections officials would have to let candidates and other observers witness some key election night moments in the ballot-handling process. Any violations could prompt hefty fines.

DeSantis had pushed Republican lawmakers to deliver the sweeping rewrites of rules on voting by mail and drop boxes, and to impose new layers of ID requirements for routine changes to a voter’s registration record.

However, the proposals signed into law did not include some of the more severe provisions initially put forward by some Republicans, including the outright banning of drop boxes and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots.

Spurred by concerns that the pandemic would keep voters from voting on Election Day last year, the Democratic Party urged people to vote early and through the mail.

The result: Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years as a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.

In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.

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