Senate Republicans have put the breaks on a sweeping federal voting rights bill backed by President Biden. Will the move renew calls among the Democrats to alter filibuster rules?
The Senate voted along strict party lines – 49-51 – on whether to take up the “Freedom to Vote Act,” falling far short of the 60 votes required to overcome a GOP filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, switched his vote to a “nay,” in a procedural move that will allow him to submit the legislation for a re-vote.
The result marked the third time this year that Republicans have blocked similar legislation, which Democrats have supported in response to the passage of election security overhauls in GOP-led states.
A disappointed and obviously belligerent President Biden slammed Republicans for blocking consideration of the voting rights legislation in a scathing statement, arguing the right to vote is “under unrelenting assault by proponents of the Big Lie and Republican Governors, Secretaries of State, Attorneys-General, and state legislatures across the nation.”
“Senate Democrats have worked hard to ensure this bill includes traditionally bipartisan provisions,” Biden said. “But Senate Republicans are likely to block even debate on the bill, as they have before on previous voting rights bills. It’s unconscionable.”
This blow occurs as the floundering president can’t even get his own party on the same page to pass his own sweeping infrastructure overhaul.
As far as the voting bill goes, Republicans have argued the legislation would infringe on the right of states to dictate their own election laws and would unduly favor the Democratic party. The latest version of the voting rights legislation would establish a federal election framework, create rules aimed at preventing partisan redistricting, and overhaul the campaign finance system.
The bill also included provisions favored by moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who joined Republicans in voicing concern about previous versions of the bill. The legislation includes a Manchin-backed effort to limit voter ID requirements.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decried the bill as a federal “election takeover scheme.”
Many fear that the voting legislation going down in flames again will force the Democrats who hold a slim majority in the Senate to vote to overturn the filibuster rules.
Progressive Democrats have repeatedly called for the filibuster to be changed or abolished entirely in response to Republican efforts to block key elements of Biden’s legislative agenda. McConnell has warned any effort to abolish the filibuster would result in complete gridlock in the Senate.
Moderate Democrats, including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have resisted calls to abolish the filibuster. Biden has also spoken out against the idea in recent months.
But there are signs that some Democrats could alter their stance if priority legislation continues to fail. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, recently indicated he was open to changes to the filibuster.
“I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” King said.