WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans were set to block action on voting rights legislation again, stepping up calls from activists and lawmakers to Democrats to finally end the filibuster or find themselves at a significant disadvantage in the process. midterm elections next year and into the future.
For the third time this year, Republicans were set to use the procedural weapon to thwart an attempt by Democrats to secure access to the ballot box and thwart a series of state laws written by the GOP in the country imposing new electoral restrictions.
Anticipating the move, President Biden, who has been criticized by progressives for not being aggressive enough on voting rights, contacted Senate Democrats on Monday to express support for what the White House described as a “priority. unavoidable”.
And at least one Democrat who had previously been reluctant to change the filibuster rules has said he’s prepared to do so when it comes to the voting measure.
“When we talk about the fundamental workings of democracy, I have to think that a Senate rule will have to be changed or give way,” said Senator Angus King, the Independent from Maine, saying he would support the changes to the Senate. the rule of systematic obstruction if necessary. pass the bill.
Under Senate rules, a qualified majority of three-fifths – or 60 votes – is needed to break the filibuster and close debate on the legislation, allowing it to proceed to a vote. In the 50-50 Senate, that effectively means 10 Republicans are needed to join Democrats to allow big bills to move forward, a threshold that has generally proven unattainable with the GOP determined to shut down Mr. Biden’s agenda. .
This has been the case with the voting rights legislation, a version that Republicans have already blocked twice.
Liberal activists have long called on Democrats to use their majority to force a change in this rule, which they could do on a simple majority vote. But they would need the support of Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two Democrats who have repeatedly said they will not accept such an effort.
In a statement, the White House did not mention the filibuster or indicate whether Mr. Biden had discussed the matter with either senator. But the White House statement said Mr Biden would strive to protect voting rights “through legislation, executive actions, outreach, chairing bullies and all. other means available “.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, also avoided filibuster on Tuesday, but suggested Democrats should eventually find a way to push forward election legislation, which the party sees as crucial to denigrate what ‘he sees it as a concerted offer by Republicans will limit the minority vote.
“If the Republicans cannot come forward and stop standing in the way, if they cannot support the strengthening, the protection of the fundamental right to vote, then the Democrats will have to determine another way forward,” she said. declared.
As time is running out to force changes ahead of next year’s election, progressive supporters of voting rights legislation have urged Biden to capitalize on his credibility as a longtime senator and to push forward to weaken or eliminate the systematic obstruction that blocks its program.
“The president really needs to get into the mix,” said Meagan Hatcher-Mays of Indivisible.
Mr King joined a handful of Democrats in reaching a compromise with Mr Manchin, the only Democrat in the Senate who opposed a broader measure of voting rights, campaign finance and ethics adopted by the House and blocked by Republicans earlier this year.
The new legislation Democrats try to bring forward on Wednesday is narrower in scope than the original bill, but would still set minimum standards for early and postal voting, impose new campaign finance disclosure rules and try to curb partisan gerrymandering – all proposals Republicans oppose it.
Kentucky Republican and Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell reiterated on Tuesday that he expected all Republicans to oppose the introduction of the legislation. Mr McConnell described the effort as a political takeover by Democrats.
“This latest iteration is just another example of how they would like the federal government to take charge of all state elections,” McConnell said.
If the proposal was blocked as planned, Democratic officials said they did not anticipate an immediate move to reverse the filibuster. They hoped that the failure of the vote would show Mr Manchin that Republicans were not interested in a bipartisan compromise on voting rights and help persuade him and Ms Sinema that there was no other alternative to adopt the legislation than a change of rules.
New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer was careful to note in his remarks in the Senate that Mr Manchin himself had earlier said that “inaction is not an option” on the matter. of voting rights.
“This is a place where Senator Manchin and I agree,” Schumer said. “The other 49 Democrats agree with Senator Manchin.”
Mr King was among a group of centrists who had expressed resistance to changing the rules governing filibuster because of the potential institutional damage to the Senate.
But he said he concluded it might be a necessary step to protect voting rights. He said he was concerned that the growing acceptance by Republicans of baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald J. Trump could pose a serious threat to the country’s democracy.
“Elections are the fundamental gearbox of our entire democratic system and if you devalue elections and tell people they cannot be trusted, it fundamentally undermines public confidence in the system and leads to kind of manipulation that you see happening in many states now, “he said.” I have decided that democracy is more important than a Senate rule. “