Politics & Policy

Sinema Deals Death Blow to Biden’s Final Push to Suspend Filibuster

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on Capitol Hill, July 16, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema declared Thursday that she will not vote to suspend the filibuster in order to pass two voting bills championed by her party, all but guaranteeing that President Biden’s top legislative priority will fail.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sinema reiterated her well-established commitment to preserving the filibuster and rejected the argument — made by her party leaders and Biden himself — that the rule represents an unacceptable obstacle to passing the Freedom to Vote Act and For the People Act.

“There’s no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role in protecting our country from wild reversals of federal policy,” she said before the chamber Thursday. “This week’s harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year.”

“But what is the legislative filibuster, other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators, representing the broader cross-section of Americans?” the senator asked. “Demands to eliminate this threshold from whichever party holds the fleeting majority amount to a group of people separated on two sides of a canyon, shouting that solution to their colleagues.”

The Arizona Democrat said that she is dedicated to making her public service in Congress reflect the diversity of her constituency and the nation at large, and urged her colleagues to stop viewing the American people as an ideological monolith that will automatically get on board with every progressive proposal.

The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that merged both bills, but it will not advance in the evenly divided 50–50 Senate given Sinema’s opposition.

Moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has also repeatedly refused to endorse any effort to weaken the filibuster, applauded Sinema for standing firm Thursday. “Very good. Excellent speech,” he said. Biden is reportedly heading to Capitol Hill Thursday in a last-ditch effort to convince the pair of Democratic holdouts to lower the filibuster hurdle for the voting bills.

Biden delivered a speech in Georgia on Tuesday lobbying Republicans to join Democrats in moving the voting legislation forward, warning that they risk falling on the wrong side of history if they don’t.

“At consequential moments in history, they present a choice,” said Biden in his speech. “Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Despite having supported the Senate 60-vote threshold throughout his political career, Biden announced: “I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights.” In rebuttal, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell slammed his rhetoric as a “rant,” “incoherent,” “incorrect,” “beneath his office,” and “unbecoming of a president of the United States.”

McConnell had threatened retaliation Tuesday in the event that Democrats changed the filibuster, claiming that such a move would backfire, stifle the legislative process, and usher in a “procedural nuclear winter.” The Democrats had settled on a carve-out exception to the filibuster for the voting bills rather than a push to flat-out kill it.

“You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we’ve just seen, a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure, pure, demagoguery,” he said. “A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the Framers built the Senate to check his power.”

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