UPDATE, 7:26 PM PT: Democrats’ efforts to pass voting rights legislation stalled again in the Senate, as they fell short in securing a filibuster rules change that would have allowed them to clear the bills with a simple majority.
The failure of the legislation was expected, after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced their opposition to even a one-time modification of the rules. They joined all Republicans in voting against the proposal, while 46 Democrats and two independents supported it Some Republicans applauded in the chamber when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the president pro tem presiding over the Senate, announced the results of the roll call.
“I will not give up. We will not give up,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) tweeted after the vote.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said, “I am profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy. I am disappointed — but I am not deterred. My Administration will never stop fighting to ensure that the heart and soul of our democracy — the right to vote — is protected at all costs.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter, “Tonight nearly every Senate Democrat wrote in permanent ink that they would shatter the soul of the Senate for short-term power. Fortunately, a bipartisan majority saved the Senate and ensured that millions and millions of Americans’ voices will not be silenced.”
PREVIOUSLY: Senate Republicans again blocked voting rights legislation on Wednesday, setting up Democratic-led effort to change the filibuster rules as a way to move the bills forward.
A parade of Senate Democrats gave impassioned speeches on the Senate floor to highlight the need for the legislation to counter GOP-led moves to restrict voting in a number of states. A number of lawmakers said that no less than the future of democracy was at stake.
The vote, 49-51, was short of the 60 necessary under filibuster rules to end debate and advance the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) switched his vote at the last minute, a procedural maneuver so that the legislation could be brought up again.
Schumer planned to schedule a vote to change the rules that ultimately would allow the Senate to clear the legislation by simple majority, something he called a “modest, one-time” modification. But Democrats don’t have enough votes to make such a move, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) opposing the changes and all Republicans likely against it.
In her remarks to the Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cited the rollback of same-day voter registration in Montana and voting restrictions passed in Georgia.
“For every one of these laws passed, in 19 states, it has been by a simple majority,” she said.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) referred to the legislation as an extension of the work of Martin Luther King, who faced a flank of state troopers as he led a voting rights protest across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, 1965. “I still pray that we will cross that bridge, but if not tonight we will come back again and again and again,” Warnock said.
But Republicans are united in their opposition to the legislation. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) argued that the law would be a “federal takeover” of state laws, and that it would prohibit measures that are popular, like requiring voter ID for mail-in ballots.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the debate and votes marked “the most important day in the history of the Senate as an institution,” as he argued for the preservation of the 60-vote threshold. He said that a majority of Democrats were ready to “shatter the soul of the Senate for short-term power.”
Yet the alarm expressed by many Democrats is that state legislation followed former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) argued that what is happening is Trump is trying to place his allies in key state offices to supervise vote counts.
“The plan is to install Donald Trump as president whether or not he wins the election,” he said.
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said that “what we have not is not a filibuster…it is a second cousin once removed of a filibuster.” He said that the “talking” filibuster has given way to one that is much easier for lawmakers to block legislation.
In contrast to efforts to advance the legislation last year, Democrats did succeed in getting the bills to the floor for debate. It created some moments that are a rarity on the floor: actual debate, with some back and forth between lawmakers. At one point, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) engaged in a protracted exchange over the need for legislation following Supreme Court decisions to strike down portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
The bills under consideration are:
The Freedom to Vote Act: The more sweeping of the two bills would establish early vote requirements and vote-by-mail standards; protect local election officials from removal for political reasons; ban gerrymandering; create automatic voter registration standards; increase campaign finance disclosure; and mandate post election audits. It also would make Election Day a national holiday and would limit polling place lines to no more than 30 minutes, among other changes.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The legislation would require that states get clearance from the federal government to certain changes to their voting laws, essentially restoring a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A state would be subject to “pre-clearance” for 10 years if: there were 15 or more voting rights violations in the state during the previous 25 years; 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, with at least at one committed by the state itself; or three or more violations in previous 25 years and the state administers the elections. The bill also would set factors that courts must consider when hearing challenges to a state or locality’s voting practices.