WASHINGTON — Democrats moved forward Tuesday with a seemingly futile attempt to enact voting rights protections from Republican opposition by passing legislation they say was urgently needed to counter widespread efforts to crack down on the vote and put in place a plan to try to change it. GOP obstacle.
By taking advantage of procedural simplification, Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and Majority Leader, avoided a Republican blockade that stalled legislation for months to force him to backtrack. But the Democrats lacked the votes needed to defeat the Republican opposition, and they lacked the votes their own party needed to change the Senate rules and pass them unilaterally.
However, they announced they would make a major effort to establish an exception to the filibusters for voting rights bills, requiring opponents to hold the floor for the old-style “talking filibuster” that would allow for a final majority of 51 senators. to vote—instead of the now required 60—to move forward after all senators have exhausted their chances to speak.
“If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the rules of the Senate must be reformed,” Mr. Schumer said.
The Democrats’ plan, unveiled at a caucus Tuesday night, still requires a party vote to change the rules, meaning it can’t succeed at this point, given opposition from at least two Democrats.
No Republican currently supports a voting rights measure that combines two far-reaching bills aimed at protecting access to the ballot box, leaving the Democrats 10 votes short of the evenly divided Senate.
The stalemate led to increased calls to unilaterally change the anti-piracy rules so Democrats can overcome Republican objections. But at least two Democrats, Senators Kirsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have made it clear they won’t, even though they support the bills.
“What good is it to keep the dysfunctional tradition of bipartisanship alive when bipartisanship can’t even preserve democracy?” the NAACP wrote in a letter to Democratic Senators on Tuesday. “It is morally inconsistent to praise voting rights legislation while at the same time allowing a rule of procedure to undermine it.”
The reluctance of the two senators infuriated Democratic activists and the party’s progressive base, which topped Emily’s List, a prominent political action committee that supports women who support abortion rights, to threaten on Tuesday to withdraw support from Ms Cinema if she maintains her position. . Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, said he would consider backing the top contenders for the two opponents.
While the effort seemed doomed to fail, Mr. Schumer made it clear that he would still push for a vote and a change in the rules. If this push doesn’t succeed as expected, the Democrats want all senators to go on record and show their progressive allies, campaign sponsors and Democratic voters that they’ve done everything they can to try and protect voting rights.
“Win, lose or draw, the members of this House have been elected to debate and vote, especially on a matter as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as the right to vote,” Mr. Schumer said. “The public has a right to know the position of every senator on such a sacred issue as the defense of our democracy.”
The Democratic onslaught has sparked a backlash from Republicans who are portraying it as a power play to gain more control over state elections while undermining a procedural tool they say is fundamental to the Senate’s character.
“A faction that desperately needs unlimited short-term power is a faction that needs to be denied it,” Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said Tuesday, accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for supporting filibusters when they were in the minority, but trying to overturn it now.
The legislation, which could be voted on as early as Wednesday, combines two measures that were previously approved by the House of Representatives but blocked from consideration in the Senate – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Extension Act. If they were approved by the Senate in their current form, they could be immediately signed by President Biden.
Under the Democrats’ current strategy, once they try and fail to break the filibuster, Mr. Schumer will start changing the rules as early as Wednesday night. Success in changing the rules will require the support of all 50 Democrats and independents, as well as a decisive vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
Understand the U.S. voting rights battle
Why is the right to vote now a problem? In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, millions of people took part in early voting in person or by mail, especially among Democrats. Inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims about mail-in ballots in hopes of canceling the election, the Republican Party has imposed a slew of new voting restrictions.
But Mr. Manchin, who has voiced support for the talking filibuster, said again on Tuesday that he would not support partisan rule-change efforts.
“I just don’t see how you can break a rule to make a rule,” Mr. Manchin told reporters ahead of the meeting.
The Freedom to Vote Act includes a series of proposals to set nationwide ballot access standards aimed at reversing a wave of new state restrictions. This would require a minimum of 15 consecutive days of early voting and that all voters be able to apply to vote by mail. The measure also introduces new automatic voter registration programs and will make Election Day a national holiday. It’s a narrower version of the law that the Democrats introduced early last year, but it’s been revised to satisfy Mr Manchin, who said the original bill was too broad and pushed for a provision requiring voters to show some form of identification. personality.
The measure, named after Representative John Lewis, a civil rights icon who died in 2020, will restore parts of the historic Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings. Among the provisions was one requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain prior approval – or “prior clearance” – from the Justice Department or federal courts in Washington before changing their voting rules.
When the debate began, Democrats and Republicans took the floor to try to defend their positions even if the measure likely failed. Republicans have reiterated their deep insult at Mr. Biden’s speech in Atlanta last week, in which he likened the bill’s opponents to notorious Southern racists like Bull Connor and George Wallace of Alabama.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, noted that New York voters last year rejected proposals to simplify ballot voting.
“If the Majority Leader continues to call Republican states that restrict voting Jim Crow 2.0, is he going to go to Times Square and call his voters Jim Crow 2.0?” Mr Sullivan asked.
Democrats said Senate Republicans were looking the other way as southern states sought to restrict access to the vote after Democrats won the presidency and Senate majority under 2020 voting rules that were introduced in some states due to the pandemic .
“We Democrats cannot sit back and let 2020 be the last free and fair election in our country,” said Senator Mazi K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. “If we don’t protect the right to vote, we won’t have democracy. It’s so simple – it’s reality.”
Some activists urged the Senate not to end the debate too quickly and engage Republicans in a protracted fight, noting that supporters of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forced opponents to filibuster for almost 60 days before it was violated.
“The Senate shouldn’t spend a couple of days on this battle and then move on,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. He said Democrats “should get supporters of state laws on voter suppression and election sabotage to engage in talking filibuster and trying to make their case.”