Biden scolds Senate Republicans over voting rights bill

President Biden on Wednesday scolded Senate Republicans as they prepared to block Democrats’ latest attempt to pass voting rights legislation, accusing them of “unconscionable” behavior. 

“Today, Senate Democrats would like to start debate on the Freedom to Vote Act. Senate Democrats have worked hard to ensure this bill includes traditionally bipartisan provisions. But Senate Republicans are likely to block even debate on the bill, as they have before on previous voting rights bills. It’s unconscionable,” Biden said in a statement issued just before the vote.

“The right to vote – to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted – is fundamental. It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote,” he said.

Biden’s sharply worded statement underscored the limits of the White House’s ability to move the needle on voting rights. Biden has resisted backing a dramatic overhaul of the legislative filibuster so that Democrats could sidestep the 60-vote hurdle needed to advance legislation. Some advocates have urged Biden to back getting rid of the filibuster in order to advance reform, and his statement on Wednesday is likely to disappoint them. 

Vice President Harris, who has led the administration’s efforts to bolster voting rights, is presiding over the vote in the Senate chamber on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after Biden issued the statement, Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from advancing the legislation.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re not deterred. But there’s still a lot of work to do,” Harris told reporters following the vote. “And I think it’s really a sad day.”

Senate Democrats last month introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, which does not go as far as the For the People Act that Senate Democrats tried and failed to advance earlier this year. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, has been trying to negotiate with Republicans on the legislation to no avail. 

A separate White House Office of Management and Budget statement formally expressing support for the Freedom to Vote Act invoked the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol in urging the bill’s passage, saying it is necessary to counter restrictive voting laws put in place by GOP-controlled states since the 2020 election. 

“Since the violent aftermath of the 2020 election, when an armed mob of insurrectionists sought to overturn the voice of the people and a duly certified election, the assault on our democracy has only intensified,” the statement said. “In state after state, restrictive laws on voting, and efforts to replace non-partisan election administration with partisan processes designed to overturn the will of the voters, have become more widespread. This landmark legislation is needed to protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, and repair and strengthen American democracy.”

The legislation would restrict gerrymandering, implement at least 15 days of early voting and same-day voter registration, and make Election Day a national holiday, among other reforms. 

Republicans have opposed the legislation, describing it as a federal takeover of state elections. 

Updated at 3:52 p.m. 

Tags Joe Biden Joe Manchin

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