Senate

Dems hit crossroads on voting rights

Democrats are about to reach a new political crossroads on voting rights as the Senate gears up for a procedural vote Wednesday that is doomed to failure.

The vote to proceed to the bill would require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning 10 Republicans would have to join with all 50 Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that Republicans will not help Democrats move forward on legislation that many in the GOP believe would cost Republicans in future elections.

Another failure would set up more disappointment for Democrats, who feel they have little to show from having elected President Biden to the White House and winning majorities in the House and Senate.

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has been talking to Republicans to try to find a way forward on the Freedom to Vote Act, which does not go as far as earlier legislation known as the For the People Act.

But there have been no serious signs of progress despite hopeful notes when the pared-down bill was first unveiled in September that it might garner enough GOP support to avoid a filibuster.

As a result, there’s a growing realization among Democrats that their hopes of taking action on voting rights are essentially hopeless unless their brethren in the Senate decide to gut the filibuster to pass both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

And their worries about what that would mean are heightened as states with GOP governors and legislatures move forward with bills that impose new restrictions on voting that Democrats broadly see as hurting their core voting blocs, including Black and Hispanic voters.

Democrats are also worried they are running out of time given Biden’s falling approval rating and the conventional wisdom in political Washington that they could lose their House majority in next year’s midterms.

“You know all the predictions are that the Republicans will take over the Senate in two years. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s possible and so that has to be reckoned with,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one of the bill’s main sponsors, told reporters Tuesday.

He said Democrats faced a depressing future unless they can figure out a way to move forward on voting rights, saying, “The alternative is to, to allow these voter restriction laws … to go forward, and then you’re stuck with the results.”

King also expressed support for going around the filibuster to pass legislation, a step other Democrats, including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have been unwilling to take.

“It’s a tough call, but … I’ve decided that democracy is more important than a Senate rule,” King said.

A failed vote would put Democrats, who are also trying to get their budget resolution and bipartisan infrastructure bill to the finish line, at a crossroads regarding how to get legislative priorities passed.

“There’s two routes; one is for the Republicans to come to the table and say ‘OK, these are some basic things that we can agree to and there are other things that we can’t,’ ” King said.

The bill up for a vote Wednesday would give all voters access to a minimum of 15 early voting days and same-day registration, while making Election Day a federal holiday.

It also would require states to have automatic voter registration and restore the right to vote to Americans with felony convictions upon completion of their prison sentence.

States would also be prohibited from the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts.

Frustration among Democrats, and specifically progressives, has been growing amid a stalemate over Biden’s economic agenda and the failure to reach a deal with Republicans on a number of other issues, including immigration and police reform.

Calls to do away with the filibuster are sure to grow with another failed voting rights bill in the Senate, though it is far from clear it will lead to anything.

Biden has not explicitly endorsed filibuster reform, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said that if the GOP blocks the voting rights bill, Democrats will have to consider alternatives.

“If [Republicans] can’t support strengthening, protecting the fundamental right to vote, then Democrats are going to have to determine an alternative path forward,” Psaki said.

Tags Angus King Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell
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