Sinema, Manchin Double Down on Opposition to Curbing Filibuster

January 14, 2022 by Dan McCue
Sinema, Manchin Double Down on Opposition to Curbing Filibuster
In this image from Senate Television, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., made clear Thursday that she supports an effort to pass sweeping voting rights legislation, but she all but doomed the bill to failure by announcing she opposes a change to filibuster rules to bypass oppositions from Senate Republicans.

“We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” she said.

Sinema’s remarks on the floor of the Senate came just moments before President Joe Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to meet with the chamber’s Democratic Caucus and strategize a way forward for the voting rights bill.

Emerging later from the hourlong, closed-door meeting, Biden was anything but optimistic. Instead, he admitted he’s “not sure” the legislation can pass Congress this year.

Surrounded by reporters and photographers as he left the meeting, Biden said, “One thing’s for certain, like every other major civil rights bill that [comes] along, if we miss the first time, we [can] come back and try [a] second time. 

“As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting,” he said.

Biden and congressional Democrats had spent several months crafting and trying to pass legislation that would roll back scores of state laws passed since the November 2020 elections that make it harder for many people to vote, especially, minorities and the poor.

The challenge all along has been the narrow margins Democrats currently hold in Congress. That’s been particularly true in the Senate, where they lack the 60 votes out of 100 to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Both Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have been vocal opponents of doing away with or amending the filibuster.

On the floor of the Senate, Sinema noted that in recent years “nearly every party-line response to the problems we face in this body, every partisan action taken to protect a cherished value, has led us to more division, not less.”

When she was done, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Sinema’s speech an important act of “political courage” that could “save the Senate as an institution.”

A short time later, Manchin sent out a lengthy press release, laying out his view.

“Throughout the last decade or more, there has been broad bipartisan support for protecting the filibuster, including current and former members of the Senate,” he said in the release. “Just four years ago, 61 Senators, 33 of which were Democrats, sent a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer … and Mitch McConnell warning them of the dangers of eliminating the filibuster.

“That letter presented a united front committed to ‘preserve the ability of members to engage in extended debate when bills are on the Senate floor,’” Manchin said. “While some of them have changed their position, I have not. Respect is a two-way street — I respect that they have changed and I would hope they respect that I have not. The ability to debate and do the hard work to find consensus between two parties is more important for our country now than ever before with the Senate evenly divided.

“While many try to ignore this history, they do so without fully understanding the long-term institutional and democratic damage this will do to the Senate and our nation,” he continued. “Allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel onto the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart — especially when one party controls both Congress and the White House. As such, and as I have said many times before, I will not vote to eliminate nor weaken the filibuster.”

Manchin went on to say the filibuster plays an important role in protecting our democracy from “the transitory passions” of the majority and respecting the input of the minority in the Senate.

“Contrary to what some have said — protecting the role of the minority, Democrat or Republican, has protected us from the volatile political swings we have endured over the last 233 years,” he said. “The role of the minority is what ensures the policies of our nation have input from all corners of the country. We must never forget that the Senate governs for all 50 states, not just red or blue states.

“For those who believe that bipartisanship is impossible, we have proven them wrong. Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out. I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country by putting politics and party aside.”

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Schumer revealed the caucus was already working on a way to avoid the filibuster showdown. Instead, he said, they would use existing Senate rules to at least have the voting bill debate on the Senate floor.

To do this, the House on Thursday amended an unrelated bill previously passed by both chambers — they chose one pertaining to NASA property leases — and sent it to the Senate in the form of a “message.”

The amendment rolled the two voting reform bills passed by the House into one, and now that the message has been sent to the Senate, it can be debated on the floor by a simple majority vote.

The problem is, it still can’t pass if Senate Republicans decide to filibuster it.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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