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Senate Republicans Block Sweeping Voting Rights Bill

June 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with reporters before a key test vote on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would overhaul the election system and voting rights, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHIINGTON – Senate Republicans filibustered their Democraticcolleague’s signature voting rights bill Tuesday night, denying it the 60 votes needed to advance the bill and start debate.

Thought the outcome was a foregone conclusion, it was nevertheless a blow to Democrats’ hopes of countered a wave of new voting restriction that have been imposed in GOP-led states in recent months.

Also rejected was a compromise bill put forward by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who called the legislation sponsored by every other Democrat in the chamber “too partisan.”

Earlier in the day there had been a flurry of hope when Manchin announced he would vote to help advance the more ambitious Democratic bill, having struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on a vote for the compromise proposal.

Schumer, speaking to reporters after a closed-door caucus lunch, enthusiastically announced he and Manchin had reached an agreement.

Under the deal, Manchin will provide a 50th Democratic vote on advancing the For the People Act, even though it will fall short of the 60 votes needed due to GOP opposition.

“We worked it out,” Schumer happily told reporters.

Up to that point Manchin had been the sole holdout among Democrats in the Senate, declining to back his party’s bill.

However late last week, he floated a list of proposed changes were well received by other members his party, and even got a nod from the White House.

Among other things, Manchin suggested adding a national voter ID requirement, which has been popular among Republicans. He also called for dropping measures that would make the sweeping reform package dead on arrival, including its proposed public financing of campaigns.

On Monday the White House called Manchin’s proposal a step forward, even if its prospects were dim.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the revisions proposed by Manchin are a compromise, another step as Democrats work to shore up voting access and what President Joe Biden sees as “a fight of his presidency.”

The president himself confirmed Psaki’s framing of the battle on Tuesday night in a lengthy statement of his own.

“Democrats in Congress unanimously came together to protect the sacred right to vote,” Biden began.

“In supporting the For the People Act and defending the rights of voters, they stood united for democracy. They stood against the ongoing assault of voter suppression that represents a Jim Crow era in the 21st Century,” he said.

“Unfortunately, a Democratic stand to protect our democracy met a solid Republican wall of opposition. Senate Republicans opposed even a debate—even considering—legislation to protect the right to vote and our democracy.

“It was the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression—another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented,” the president said.

“The creed “We Shall Overcome” is a longtime mainstay of the Civil Rights Movement. By coming together, Democrats took the next step forward in this continuous struggle—not just on Capitol Hill, but across the country—and a step forward to honor all those who came before us, people of all races and ages, who sacrificed and died to protect this sacred right.”

Vowing that he’ll have more to say on the matter next week, Biden said “This fight is far from over—far from over. I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again—for the people, for our very democracy.”

Ahead of the vote, the two party leaders went at it on the floor of the chamber, with Schumer declaring, “there’s a rot … at the center of the modern Republican party.”

“Should the United States Senate even debate how to protect the voting rights of our citizens? There’s only one correct answer. We’ll see if our Republican colleagues chose it this afternoon,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered said the Senate “is no obstacle to voting laws done the right way.”

“I’ve helped write legislation regarding our democracy that has soared through this chamber on huge bipartisan margins. The Senate is only an obstacle when the policy is flawed and the process is rotten. And that’s exactly why this body exists,” he said.

The For the People Act, which the House passed in March, would have created national standards for early voting and voter registration, end partisan gerrymandering, overhaul campaign finance and ethics laws, restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and more.

After the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the For The People Act “is the remedy to the anti-democratic tide that is sweeping our nation.” 

“It will restore a government of, by and for the people: combating the hundreds upon hundreds of state-wide voter suppression bills already introduced, the vicious gerrymandering plotted by partisan lawmakers and the torrent of big dark special interest money suffocating the airwaves,” Pelosi said.

“Yet, all Senate Republicans voted against even proceeding to debate on democracy reform – because they know that the only way for them to win elections is to suppress the vote.  Their cowardly refusal to protect our democracy silences the voices of voters and prevents the passage of popular, bipartisan legislation, from commonsense gun violence prevention to climate action to LGBTQ equality,” the speaker continued.

“Our American Democracy is in peril, and today, every single Senate Republican voted against saving it.  Democrats will not be deterred in our fight for the For The People Act.  Our Republic is at a crossroads, and it is up to us to save it,” she said.

Republicans’ refusal to allow the Senate to even debate the bill will now likely ramp up pressure on moderate Democrats to support eliminating the 60-vote filibuster, a move that Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., staunchly oppose.

Immediately after the vote, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., released a statement in which he said, “Today’s Republican vote to block even basic debate on the For the People Act is just the latest step in the GOP’s national crusade to restrict access to the ballot box for Black and Brown people, immigrants, and poor communities across America. 

“In every election, Americans are forced to overcome voter suppression, gerrymandering, and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote,” Markey continued.

 “With our very democracy at stake, we cannot let the filibuster stand as a roadblock to the fundamental and constitutional right to vote. It’s time to abolish the filibuster so that we can debate and pass voting rights and electoral reform legislation to ensure our democracy represents all Americans.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D- Minn., Chair of the Committee on Rules and Administration, which has oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law, announced Tuesday night that she is going to hold a series of hearings on key elections reforms, including a field hearing in Georgia to hear first-hand from voters impacted by tighter restrictions there.

“Today’s vote showed that Democrats are united behind the need to ensure our elections are fair and that all Americans can vote in the way that works best for them,” Klobuchar said. “Just this year, 22 bills that roll back the right to vote have already been signed into law in states across the country – we cannot wait to act.

“The For the People Act includes many popular provisions that both Democrats and Republicans support, including setting basic national standards to make sure all Americans have access to the ballot box,” she continued. “This fight has just begun.”

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of American civil rights interest groups based in Washington. D.C., said Senate Republicans had “failed the American people” by not advancing “one of the most transformative pieces of legislation we have seen in a generation.”

“The For the People Act would protect the freedom to vote by making sure voting options are equally accessible across all 50 states and all voters can exercise this fundamental right. We must ensure that all of us — no matter our color, zip code, or income — have an equal say in our democracy,” Henderson said.

“With nearly 400 anti-voter bills introduced in states across the nation this year alone, and while the assault on our sacred right to vote continues in Republican controlled state legislatures, we will not give up. We will continue to fight for fair and accessible elections to make the promise of democracy a reality for all. The Senate must not let any rule or procedure that stops bills from ever being considered on the floor be a hurdle to shoring our democracy,” he concluded.

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