Republicans Block Democrats’ Sweeping ‘Voting Rights’ Legislation

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after the Senate Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, June 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senate Republicans on Tuesday used their filibuster power to block debate on Democrats’ sweeping federal elections bill, dealing a fatal blow to one of President Biden’s early major agenda items. 

The measure failed in a 50-50 vote along party lines. However, even without Republicans’ use of the filibuster, the bill would have failed to pass as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to advance to debate but said he would vote against the measure unless a number of changes were made.

“This is a battle for the soul of America,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said. “We will keep fighting until we succeed.”

Ahead of the vote, a number of Democrats acknowledged that the test vote to advance the so-called “For the People Act” was sure to fail in the face of solid Republican opposition. The measure would have needed to garner 60 votes to advance. 

Earlier on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “What we are measuring, I think, is, is the Democratic Party united? We weren’t as of a couple of weeks ago.”

She then conceded that the vote would fail.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on Tuesday before the vote that the bill was “really an effort for the federal government to take over the way we conduct elections in this country.” He called it a “solution in search of a problem.”

“Finally today we will put an end to it here in the Senate,” he added. “The American people can be relieved that the federal government — at least in this area — is not going to expand and supplant the states, which have been involved in conducting elections throughout the history of our country.”

Instead of attempting to gin up Republican support for the vote, Democrats focused on getting their members on board with a more limited alternative proposal by moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia which included a list of voting and campaign finance changes.

The proposal put forth by Manchin, who had argued the For the People Act was too partisan, suggested making Election Day a public holiday, offering 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, and allowing automatic voter registration through state departments of motor vehicles.

The moderate Democrat also supports requiring voter identification but allowing alternatives such as utility bills to serve as proof of identity.

A number of Democrats, including Stacey Abrams and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, have recently shifted their opinion on voter ID.

Abrams endorsed Manchin’s voting legislation compromise last week, claiming that “no one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote.”

“I support voter identification,” Abrams said. “I reject restrictive voter ID designed to keep people out of the process.”

However, earlier this year Abrams criticized a new Georgia voting law as “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie,” though it closely resembles some of Manchin’s proposals. Both make voter roll maintenance easier and require voter ID with some alternatives. Additionally, Manchin proposes requiring 15 days of early voting, while the Georgia law requires 17 to 19 days of early voting, including weekends.

Warnock said last week that Manchin’s proposal brings Democrats “closer to the goal” of passing voting rights legislation.

He also suggested there may be room to compromise on voter identification requirements, in line with Manchin’s proposal, and claimed that he had “never been opposed to voter ID.”

“And in fact, I don’t know anybody who is — who believes people shouldn’t have to prove that they are who they say they are,” Warnock told NBC News. “But what has happened over the years is people have played with common sense identification and put into place restrictive measures intended not to preserve the integrity of the outcome, but to select, certain group.”

However, McConnell criticized Manchin’s proposal and Abrams’ endorsement at the time, saying, in reality, it “is no compromise.”

“It still subverts the First Amendment to supercharge cancel culture and the left’s name-and-shame campaign model,” he said. “It takes redistricting away from state legislatures and hands it over to computers. And it still retains S. 1’s rotten core: an assault on the fundamental idea that states, not the federal government, should decide how to run their own elections.”

Without Republican support, Democrats would need to eliminate or alter the filibuster. However, it is unlikely Democrats could rally enough support from their members to do so, as moderates including Manchin and Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona have expressed unwillingness to support such an effort.

On Monday, Sinema reiterated her opposition to eliminating the 60-vote threshold, writing in an op-ed in the Washington Post that the party would “lose much more than we gain.”

“To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?” Sinema wrote.

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