Democrats hit wall on voting rights push

Senate Democrats are at a stalemate over how to pass voting rights legislation after Republicans blocked a sweeping election reform bill.

Democrats insist that this week’s setback is just “day one” of the conversation, with the White House and progressives planning to ramp up efforts to get the bill passed, but the legislation is effectively stuck in the Senate for the foreseeable future.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he wasn’t sure how Democrats can get out of their current logjam.


“I don’t know yet,” Durbin said. “We’re discussing possibilities of trying to get some aspects of the voting rights back up for consideration.”

The challenges facing Democrats are both internal and external: To get an election bill through the Senate they need to marshal 60 votes, which includes the unlikely support of 10 Republicans, or all 50 members of the Democratic caucus would have to agree to nix the legislative filibuster, the rules that requires 60 votes for most bills to advance.

Some Democrats say that after seeing Republicans block the For the People Act on Tuesday, it’s time to talk about how the filibuster will affect President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE’s legislative agenda.

“I think people have to absorb what it means to have had that filibuster. ... That will be over the course of the July 4 recess. And I’m sure when we get back we’ll probably, you know, have to have some significant discussions about: Do we want to accomplish a lot over the next couple of years or don’t we?” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineGOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Va.).

Despite a months-long call by progressives and a growing number of Democratic senators to get rid of the filibuster, Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Sinema says she opposes .5T price tag for spending bill MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOcasio-Cortez, Bush criticize lack of diversity among negotiators on latest infrastructure deal Fetterman slams Sinema over infrastructure: 'Democrats need to vote like Democrats' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Ariz.), who both voted in favor of advancing the Democratic election bill this week, are showing no signs of backing down from their opposition to nixing the 60-vote threshold.

Sinema, in a Washington Post op-ed the night before the vote, argued that gutting the filibuster to pass voting legislation would only open the door for Republicans to enact strict voting laws that are considered anathema to Democrats when they take back control of the Senate.


“To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act … I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?” Sinema wrote.

After Republicans blocked the voting rights bill, Manchin told reporters that “the filibuster is needed to protect democracy.”

And while Manchin and Sinema are the two most vocal Democratic opponents, others are viewed as wary, though Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE (I-Maine) has suggested he could be swayed given the GOP opposition to the voting rights bill.

Democrats think there’s little chance that they can get 10 Republicans to support voting rights legislation.

“Not on voting. I would love to be proven wrong, but I viewed that vote on the independent commission as a complete crystal ball into any piece of voting rights,” Kaine said, referring to most Senate Republicans opposing a commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (I-Vt.), who like King caucuses with Democrats, dismissed the idea that Republicans would get on board with voting rights, saying during an MSNBC interview: “This is not going to be bipartisan. Unfortunately, Democrats are going to have to do it by themselves.”

Senate Democrats are expected to come under intense pressure to act on voting rights amid growing alarm bells within the party about new laws being introduced, debated and in some cases passed by Republican-led states.

Democrats see those laws as a direct result of former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, despite his legal team losing dozens of challenges. They also see the state rules as a threat to their ability to control Congress in the future.

“Voter suppression for the Republicans is a way of life, it’s a strategy. They are worshipping at the altar of voter suppression. That’s a disgrace. And we’re gonna have to do something about it. And we will,” Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJeffries: 'Sick and cynical' for GOP to blame Pelosi for Jan. 6 Democrat unveils bill to allow only House members to serve as Speaker Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters.

Progressive groups are already planning a summer pressure campaign that includes targeting Democratic senators with ads and other paid media, viewing voting rights as too existential to fall short and a big test about whether they’ll be able to get Senate Democrats to change the chamber’s rules.

Biden and Vice President Harris are set to ramp up their use of the public bully pulpit to try to get voting rights across the finish line.

“What you should expect to hear from him is that there are many ways to work across the country with activists, with states, with legislators, using every lever at our disposal to expand access, improve access to voting across the country,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhy in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE told reporters.


But for now, Senate Democrats are struggling to figure out a path forward.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) vowed Wednesday that the Senate isn’t done debating the issue.

“I reserve the right to bring this issue up for debate again. … [It] was the first time we tried to consider major voting rights legislation, but it won’t be the last. Democrats will explore every option available to us for reconsidering legislation on this topic. We’ll leave no stone unturned. Voting rights are too important,” Schumer said.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE (D-Minn.), the Rules Committee chairwoman, is planning to hold “a series of hearings on the urgent need to pass critical voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms, including a field hearing in Georgia to hear testimony on the recently enacted legislation to restrict voting in the state.”

The House has already passed the For the People Act, a legislative package that not only sets national voting standards but also changes the composition of the Federal Election Commission, adds new restrictions on congressional redistricting, overhauls campaign finance and includes new ethics rules for the president and vice president.

Democrats are also vowing to move legislation named after the late Rep. John LewisJohn LewisNative Americans are targets of voter suppression too Ethics panel taking no action after Joyce Beatty's arrest at protest Rep. Hank Johnson among demonstrators arrested at voting rights protest MORE (D-Ga.) to strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision in 2013 gutted the formula for determining if state and local governments require Justice Department clearance before making election and voting changes. 


“We’re following that process, which involves a series of hearings and testimony  that we receive, and reports, ultimately, that are compiled. That process will be underway over the next few months. And I expect that at some point in the fall, we’ll pass H.R. 4, send it over to the Senate,” Jeffries said.

Durbin said Senate Democrats are also looking at holding hearings on the Voting Rights Act in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he said he wasn’t yet sure if there was any GOP support beyond Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers give grueling, horrific accounts of Jan. 6 MORE (Alaska), the only Republican who co-sponsored the voting rights bill during the previous Congress.

“There may be, but I just don’t know,” he said. “I’m open.”