WASHINGTON — President Biden’s drive to push new voting rights protections through Congress met a major hurdle on Thursday when Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema declared that she would not support undermining the filibuster under any circumstances. of the Senate to enact new laws.
Ahead of a presidential visit to the Capitol to meet with Democrats in person, Ms. Sinema took the floor to say that while she supported two new voting rights measures and was concerned about new voting restrictions in some states, she believed that a unilateral Democratic action to weaken the filibuster would only lead to growing political divisions.
“These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t fully address the disease itself,” Ms Sinema said. “And while I will continue to support these bills, I will not support individual actions that exacerbate the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
Her comments were a major setback for Mr. Biden, who delivered a speech in Atlanta two days earlier, calling for a change to Senate rules if necessary, and traveled to Capitol Hill Thursday to try to convince Senate Democrats. Ms. Sinema was under pressure from her colleagues to drop her opposition to a rule change, but her refusal to change course seemed to destroy bills in the Senate.
Her speech followed Thursday’s passage through the House of a repackaged set of voting rights laws. Lawmakers pushed past Republican opposition and hastily sent legislation to the Senate to force a showdown over the fate of the measures and the filibuster’s reach.
As part of a democratic plan to speed up the bills in the Senate, the House approved the new measure by a 220 to 203 party vote after a heated partisan debate in which lawmakers clashed over the state of election laws around the world. . country.
The new legislation combined two separate bills already passed by the House — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — and joined them in what had been an unrelated measure involving NASA. This move allows the Senate to take the bill straight to the floor, bypassing an initial filibuster, though Republicans can still prevent it from coming to a final vote.
Democrats said the legislation was urgently needed to offset efforts in Republican-led states to make voting more difficult after Democratic victories in the 2020 election and former President Donald J. Trump’s false claim that the voice was stolen. They argue that the wave of new state laws is clearly intended to reduce voting in minority communities, representing a contemporary version of the kind of restrictions that prevailed before the enactment of landmark civil rights laws in the 1960s.
“There are people who don’t want you to vote and they’re using every tool in the toolbox to make it harder,” said Florida Democrat Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, referring to the implementation of new voting restrictions in the past year by the United States. Republican-led states. “Voter suppression has not been relegated to the history books. It is here today, right now.”
Republicans railed against the maneuver used to pass the House bill on Thursday, accusing Democrats of “hijacking” the space agency’s move to pass legislation they believe would imply federal interference in the state’s voting operations. represented to give Democratic candidates an unfair advantage.
“This is a big step backwards for the integrity of the US election,” Wisconsin Republican Representative Tom Tiffany said.
New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said the Senate would begin debating the bill passed by the House as soon as possible. It will be the Senate’s fifth attempt to consider such legislation, after Republicans used the filibuster four times to keep the bills from even reaching the floor.
Understand the struggle for voting rights in the US
Why is voting rights a problem now? In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, millions of people have embraced voting in person or by mail, especially among Democrats. Spurred on by Donald Trump’s false claims about mail ballots in hopes of undoing the election, the GOP has pursued a host of new voting restrictions.
“The Senate will finally debate voting rights legislation for the first time in this Congress,” Mr Schumer said on Thursday. “Every senator will face the choice of whether or not to pass this legislation to protect our democracy.”
While all 50 Senate Democrats support the legislation, Republicans are almost unanimously against, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed under current rules to end the debate and force a final vote. President Biden on Tuesday urged Democrats to pass a change in voting rights legislation so that the party can bypass a filibuster with a simple majority.
At least two Democrats — Ms. Sinema and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — have so far said they won’t, meaning the legislation in the Senate will die if they don’t change their stance.
The Freedom to Vote Act contains a series of proposals to establish national standards for access to ballots, with the aim of undoing the wave of new restrictions in states. It would require a minimum of 15 consecutive days of early voting and that all voters can request to vote by mail; it would also introduce new automatic voter registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday. It’s a more limited version of the legislation Democrats introduced early last year, but it has been modified to suit Mr. Manchin, who said the original bill was too broad and insisted on including a provision requiring voters to pass a vote. or other form of identification.
A second measure, named after Deputy John Lewis, the civil rights icon and former congressman who died in 2020, would restore parts of the historic Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings. One of the stipulations was that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must obtain pre-approval — or “preclearance” — from the Justice Department or federal courts in Washington before changing their voting rules.
Mr. Schumer has set a deadline for action on Monday, marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Democrats drop. The Democrats said that deadline was appropriate.
“Voting rights haven’t been so compromised since Dr. King walked among us,” said Maryland Democrat and Majority Leader Representative Steny H. Hoyer.