By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to protecting democracy collapsed Wednesday when two senators refused to join their own party in changing Senate rules to overcome a Republican filibuster after a raw, emotional debate.
The outcome was a stinging defeat for President Joe Biden and his party, coming at the tumultuous close to his first year in office.
Despite a day of piercing debate and speeches that often carried echoes of an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed by opponents of civil rights legislation, Democrats could not persuade holdout senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change the Senate procedures on this one bill and allow a simple majority to advance it.
“This is a moral moment,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.
Voting rights advocates are warning that Republican-led states nationwide are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.
Vice President Kamala Harris presided, able to break a tie in the 50-50 Senate if needed, but she left before the final roll call. The rules change was rejected in a 52-48 vote, with Manchin and Sinema joining the Republicans in opposition.
The nighttime voting brought an end, for now, to legislation that has been a top Democratic priority since the party swept control of Congress and the White House.
“I haven’t given up,” Biden said earlier at a White House news conference.
The Democrats’ bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic — and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes. It has passed the House.
Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the legislation, but Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill over the Republican filibuster. It failed 49-51 on a largely party-line vote.
Instead, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put forward a more specific rules change for a “talking filibuster” on this one bill. It would require senators to stand at their desks and exhaust the debate before holding a simple majority vote, rather than the current practice that simply allows senators to privately signal their objections.
But that, too, failed because Manchin and Sinema said they were unwilling to change the rules on a party-line vote by Democrats alone.
Emotions were on display during the floor debate.
When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky whether he would pause for a question, McConnell left the chamber, refusing to respond.
Durbin said he would have asked McConnell, “Does he really believe that there’s no evidence of voter suppression?”
The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said at one point, “I am not a racist.”
McConnell, who led his party in doing away with the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees during Donald Trump’s presidency, warned against changing the rules again.