Senate Democrats on Wednesday evening failed to pass their “voting rights” legislation package.
The motion to end debate on and advance to a vote the Democrats’ “voting rights” bill failed in the Senate along party lines. Forty-nine senators voted in the affirmative, and 51 senators, including moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, voted against. The Democrats needed to have 60 votes to overcome the GOP filibuster. Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “no” at the last minute so that he could put the item back on the table later.
The Senate is now debating a rules change to exempt the voting package from the 60-vote hurdle. The move is expected to fail given insufficient votes — namely from Manchin and Sinema.
“This party-line push has never been about securing citizens’ rights,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on the chamber floor. “It’s about expanding politicians’ power.”
It was all-but-certain that the votes would fail in the 50–50 Senate given opposition from Republicans and the two moderate Democrats.
Despite the long odds, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) chose to push forward a vote on the elections package, which joined together two bills that Republicans blocked last year: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
The former would federalize some facets of elections, including setting a 15-day minimum early-voting period and setting national standards for voter-ID laws to include a range of documentation. The latter would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that allowed the Justice Department to review election-rule changes in districts with a history of discrimination.
“Win, lose, or draw, we are going to vote,” Schumer said earlier Wednesday. “If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, protect the cornerstone of our democracy under the existing rules, then the Senate rules must be reformed,” he said.
To pass the combination bill in the Senate without Republican support, Schumer proposed a shift to a talking filibuster that would have allowed opponents to stop the bill from moving forward only by actively speaking on the floor until they had used up their allotted two speeches for each issue on each legislative day.
The talking filibuster would have replaced the 60-vote threshold for ending debate but would have applied only to elections legislation. After a talking filibuster came to a close, the Senate would then be able to take a straight up-or-down vote on passing the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) slammed Democrats ahead of the vote, accusing them of trying to take over the nation’s elections system. He accused President Biden and Democrats of trying to “use fear and panic to smash the Senate.”
Senator John Thune (R., S.D.) similarly warned that Democrats risked dangerously hurting the country’s democracy.
“What you’re talking about doing today is turning the United States Senate into a majoritarian body,” he said. “The essence of the Senate is a check and balance on the passions of the other body.”
Schumer accused Republicans of not even acknowledging the “crisis” many states are facing in terms of voting rights, citing alleged restrictions in Montana, Texas, and Florida.
He called the opposition “particularly disgraceful, particularly abhorrent, particularly obnoxious.”
However, for all of their concern about the chance of a Capitol-riot repeat, Democrats have largely been unwilling to review the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which lays out the process for certifying the results of presidential elections. Some Republicans have proposed getting Congress out of election certification entirely by altering or eliminating the ECA, thereby reducing the danger that a majority party could disregard the will of the American people in favor of its preferred candidate. Liberal Democrats have refused to engage with those Republicans on what appears to be common ground, insisting instead that Congress must pass their more expansive voting legislation, which would federalize elections and override state laws.