GOP Blocks Voting Rights Bill in Clash Over Election Laws
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republicans blocked an overhaul of U.S. election laws from reaching the floor for debate, adding to a string of Democratic defeats that is straining ties with civil rights groups and minority voters.
The bill failed to advance Wednesday on a 49-51 vote, well short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, highlighting Democrats’ meager power in a chamber evenly split between the two political parties and leaving the legislation all but dead. Democratic leaders have conceded they lack the votes now to alter the Senate’s filibuster rule to pass it on their own, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “no” so he has the option of trying again.
The legislation is designed to counter a record number of new voting restrictions emerging from Republican-led state legislatures, which Democrats say aim to curtail participation by minorities and poorer Americans. The bill, The Freedom to Vote Act, was an attempt at a compromise among Democrats, after a much broader voter access bill was blocked by Republicans in June and again in August.
“Let there be no mistake, Senate Republicans blocking debate today is an implicit endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws pushed in conservative states across the country,” Schumer said after the vote. “Why aren’t my colleagues outraged by these laws?” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill was aimed at giving Democrats advantages in future elections, plowing taxpayer monies into federal campaigns and usurping state authority over issues like voter identification.
“For multiple years running, Washington Democrats have offered a rotating merry-go-round of rationales to explain why they need to federalize voting laws and take over all of American elections themselves,” McConnell said.
Wednesday’s vote came after other setbacks to President Joe Biden’s agenda. Bipartisan talks failed to produce new legislation related to gun control, immigration and policing practices. Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to attach a plan to provide a pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants in a multitrillion-dollar economic package they aim to pass on their own, although a more limited approach providing deportation protections is being weighed by the Senate parliamentarian.
Pressure on Democrats
The defeats place added pressure on Democrats to produce on Biden’s economic agenda. Schumer said Tuesday that congressional leaders are pushing for a “framework” by the end of the week on a package of tax increases and programs to fight climate change and expand federal funding for education, child care and health care. That would clear the way to advance that plan as well as the Senate-passed $550 billion public works bill awaiting action in the House.
The voting rights bill was drafted by a group of Democrats that included Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate who said the earlier version lacked bipartisan support and was too expansive. The agreement united all Senate Democrats behind the same proposal for the first time.
The measure would create an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday and provide voters with at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections. It also is designed to curtail partisan “gerrymandering” of congressional districts and would put in place new campaign finance disclosure requirements that include mandating Super-PACs and other outside groups report their donors.
Among other changes from the earlier version, it includes a voter ID provision Manchin wanted. It lets voters use a number of types of identification cards and documents, which can be either hard copies or in digital form.
The showdown with Republicans is again putting the spotlight on the chamber’s filibuster rule. Democratic leaders have been working to make a case for changing or getting rid of the filibuster, which allows a minority of just 41 senators to thwart most legislation. Still, Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona both have said they would not support getting rid of the filibuster rule.
A number of leading civil rights groups said after the vote that Democrats must unite to end the filibuster and signaled that their patience is running thin with the party.
“There is no such thing as bipartisanship when one half of a legislative body does not respect the Constitution which they swore an oath to protect,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. “Don’t forget that Black voters landed a victory for this president and this Congress, so don’t fail us again.
Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking to reporters at the Capitol after the vote, said “it’s a really sad day,” but that the administration will continue to push to overhaul restrictive election laws.
“We’re not going to give up,” she said. “We’re not deterred. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Schumer said he’ll set the stage for another clash over election law next week when he tries to bring up the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores a system of Justice Department preclearances for state voting law changes to ensure they don’t harm minority voters.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said there aren’t enough votes to change the filibuster rule, and at best Democrats may try to build consensus around reforming the way it works, like requiring senators utilizing it to be present and speaking. Now, he said, a senator can declare a filibuster and “go home for the weekend.”
“People who want to stop the business of the Senate should have to bear that burden personally when they’re speaking on the floor,” Durbin said. “And as a group if there are 40 of them that feel that way, they should be here.”
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