US Senate blocks change in filibuster for voting rights bills

WASHINGTON — Every Republican in the U.S. Senate and two Democrats on Wednesday night rejected a proposed filibuster amendment to pass voting rights legislation, dealing a blow to Congress’ attempts to counter restrictive election laws passed in the United States. States.

In a 48-52 vote, two Democrats – Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia – voted against weakening the Senate’s 60-vote threshold specifically to advance two voting rights bills, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Free Suffrage Act.

In a sign of the importance of the moment and the issue, senators voted from their desks, having spent most of Wednesday debating the special exception for filibuster on suffrage legislation. Applause was heard after the vote.

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Democrats said the proposed rule change was carefully crafted and tailored for one-time use, and necessary because of the GOP’s united opposition to the two massive ballot bills, which would set federal standards for access. to vote.

“History is watching us,” said Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who invoked the civil rights movement and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. “Our children are counting on us. And I hope we have the courage to do what is right for our communities and for our country.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said while he expected the vote to fail, he wanted senators to be told whether to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to adopt the measures relating to the right to vote.

“How will the members of this body expand and protect the most basic right, the right to vote, against the forces right now in the 21st century who are conspiring to suppress it?” said the New York Democrat. “And win, lose or draw, we will vote. We will vote – especially when the issue concerns the beating heart of our democracy, as the right to vote does.

Earlier, in a separate vote, Republican senators on a party-line vote also opposed advancing one-debate voting rights legislation.

How will the members of this body expand and protect the most basic right, the right to vote, against the forces that, now in the 21st century, are conspiring to suppress it?

– Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

Sinema had said she opposed changing the filibuster rules because she felt it would only add to political polarization and that the Senate should work to pass any legislation at the bipartisan level. She said she supports suffrage legislation.

Manchin made similar arguments about the filibuster on the floor on Wednesday.

Manchin pointed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill that both sides were able to send to the president’s office, after much negotiation.

“We can do it again, we really can,” he said. “We can make it easier to vote.”

Manchin was tasked with enlisting the support of 10 Republicans for the free suffrage law, but was unable to win support from the GOP. And only one Republican senator has come out in favor of the John Lewis Act, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Republicans denounce ‘fake hysteria’

Republicans have criticized Democrats for trying to pass federal legislation they say would interfere with state elections and for creating what they called a false narrative of states passing restrictive right to vote legislation. vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats were creating a ‘fake hysteria over state election laws’ and called the filibuster change a ‘plot to break up the Senate’ and ‘radicalism’ that would change America permanently.

“This pushing of the party line was never intended to guarantee the rights of citizens. It is about extending the power of politicians,” he said.

President Joe Biden, at a press conference on Wednesday, also again expressed support for the suffrage bills.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris implored Congress to pass voting rights legislation during a visit to Atlanta on January 11, 2022. Democrats said they support changes to voting rights Senate filibuster if Republicans continue to block debate measures. (Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder)

Biden recently remarked on the bills in Georgia, which became ground zero for the right to vote after state lawmakers passed new voting laws. Biden won the state in 2020, and Georgia also elected two Democratic senators, giving Democrats 50 votes in the equally divided Senate.

Biden said critics of his speech in Georgia misinterpreted his remarks, in which he drew parallels between the current voting rights push and historical figures from the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement.

“I didn’t say they were going to be George Wallace or Bull Connor. I said we were going to have a decision in history,” Biden said. “I think Mitch (McConnell) did some very good job making it look like I was attacking them. You notice I didn’t attack anyone publicly.

Biden said he had not given up the right to vote and that it was important to continue educating the public on the issues.

Many Republicans have taken issue with the filibuster being compared to a Jim Crow-era relic, or being labeled racist by not supporting a special voting rights exception.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said Democrats were trying to cast the Republican Party as “anti-voter.”

In an emotional speech, Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey and one of three black senators, said there was clear evidence that areas with high concentrations of black and brown voters were being targeted by the States.

“Don’t lecture me about Jim Crow,” he said. “I know it’s not 1965. That’s what makes me outraged. It’s 2022, and they’re blatantly cutting more polling places in counties where blacks and Latinos are overrepresented. »

Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee, said the new voting requirements that states are set to pass are “common sense voter ID laws.”

Tennessee has low voter turnout and strict voter ID requirements that advocates say disenfranchise students, senior voters and poor voters.

Hagerty said ending the filibuster, which is not what Democrats proposed, would be “the end of the Senate.”

“There is no institution they won’t destroy,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is watched by reporters as he arrives for a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats at the United States Capitol on December 16, 2021, in Washington, DC As legislative action for the Build Back Better law remains blocked, the senators vote on the judicial and diplomatic candidates before the Christmas holidays. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

wave of laws

The votes followed attempts by congressional Democrats to pass voting rights legislation to counter the wave of restrictive election laws passed by Republican-controlled states.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that from January 1 to December 7, 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly stalled the suffrage debate by resorting to filibusters.

Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, said the current filibuster rules have made senators lazy, allowing them to block bills without defending their decisions.

He expressed support for a “filibuster” that would require lawmakers who oppose the legislation to be physically present in the Senate to debate their objection.

“I don’t think we should be afraid to adjust the filibuster to make the US Senate work,” he said. “Not blowing it up, but making some adjustments to make it work.”

Tester said that in Montana, the state legislature passed a bill that does not allow students to use their student ID to vote. Several student groups are suing, calling the bill “a cocktail of voter suppression measures that weigh heavily on young people.”

“What kind of message are you sending to young people? he said. “You say your voice doesn’t count.”

The senses. Both Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper of Colorado have expressed support for filibuster reform.

Several states with Democratic governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have vetoed bills passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures that sought to limit the number of ballot drop boxes, introduce a strict identification of voters and limiting postal voting.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, has previously worked with Democrats on bipartisan legislation, but has accused Democrats of trying to “take control” of state elections.

“There was no effort to make it bipartisan,” he said. “Now we are going to break this 200-year-old filibuster that forces us to come together to find common ground and gives us stronger bills because of it.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, told lawmakers the filibuster had undergone dozens of changes, made by both sides.

He said that with a simple majority vote, in 2017 McConnell changed the rules to allow confirmation of former President Donald Trump’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch.

Democrats also used the reconciliation to pass part of Biden’s platform by a simple majority, as well as raise the debt ceiling at the end of 2021 without the 60-vote threshold, due to a one-time exception to the rule of the day. systematic obstruction.

The John Lewis bill, named for the Georgia lawmaker and civil rights icon, would strengthen the Voting Rights Act by establishing a new formula requiring all 50 states to obtain special permission from the Justice Department before voting rights. make changes to voting laws or put in place new voting requirements.

The Freedom to Vote Act would require states to expand voter registration, expand access to mail-in voting, and limit purges of voter rolls, while making Election Day a federal holiday.

Journalist Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

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