The US Senate on Wednesday voted 49-51 to block the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act from moving to a final passage vote.
The watered-down voting rights bill would have made Election Day a national holiday and expanded early mail-in voting.
Last May, the Senate reached a partisan deadlock over a more exhaustive overhaul of federal election, ethics and campaign finance law — the For the People Act, also known as H.R. 1 or S. 1 — and the latest setback shows that Republicans in Washington have no appetite for curbing anti-voter measures being rammed through state legislatures based on disgraced former President Donald Trump’s lies and fantasies about why he lost the 2020 election.
The House passed an omnibus voting rights bill that included the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, an effort to restore and revitalize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).
The VRA was the most successful civil rights legislation in our country’s history until the Supreme Court gutted the law in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. The top court further weakened the law’s protections against voting discrimination in the 2021 case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.
The Senate also voted 48-52 against changing the filibuster rule to pass the voting rights bill with a simple majority as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined every Republican in the chamber by voting against the move.
Seventeen of those Republicans supported a 2006 vote to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act but they voted against restoring provisions of that law struck down by the Supreme Court in recent years.
Among them was Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who in 2006, had nothing but praise for legislation to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was enacted to combat the racist voting laws of the Jim Crow era.
“One of my favorite sayings that many of us use from time to time is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ ” McConnell said on the Senate floor in July of that year in the moments before the bill passed with a 98-to-0 vote. “This is a good piece of legislation that has served an important purpose over many, many years.… And this landmark piece of legislation will continue to make a difference not only in the South but for all of America and for all of us, whether we are African Americans or not.”
During a marathon news conference, President Joe Biden —whose Democratic presidential primary opponents said he was naive when he declared, “Not a joke, you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends”—acknowledged that he underestimated the amount of Republican opposition he would face.
“I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” said Biden, adding that the Republican Party that he now faces is more dug-in even than it was when he served as vice president. “They weren’t nearly as obstructionist as they are now,” Biden said.
Biden escalated his partisan rhetoric during his first news conference in 10 months, laying the blame for his stalled agenda at the feet of Republicans and suggesting on the eve of his one-year anniversary that he has been surprised by their intransigence.
“I honest to God don’t know what they’re for,” Biden said at one point during his nearly two-hour exchange with reporters. “What is their agenda?”
He said the GOP is thoroughly cowed by former president Donald Trump. “Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they’re unwilling to take any vote?” Biden asked.
The shift intensified a harsher tone that Biden has taken this year toward Republicans, starting with an address commemorating the attempted coup d’etat on Jan. 6, 2021, and continuing in Georgia last week with a blistering address suggesting that those who do not support the current voting rights bills will be remembered in history alongside such notorious racists as Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy.
The year-long Democratic push for federal voting rights legislation died in the Senate on Wednesday night, after Republicans blocked an elections bill for the fifth time in six months and Democrats failed to unite their caucus behind a plan to rewrite the Senate’s rules and pass it anyway.
The final clash, which has been brewing since Democrats won congressional majorities a year ago as Republican legislatures in 19 states embarked on a campaign to roll back election access, began with an evening vote to close debate on a sprawling voting rights bill. That vote, at the Senate’s traditional 60-vote margin for legislation, failed on party lines..
Manchin and Sinema repeatedly made clear they would not weaken the 60-vote rule, defending it as a tool to protect minority-party rights and promote bipartisanship in U.S. democracy.
But Schumer and other top Democrats were determined to push forward with a floor confrontation regardless, even as it promised to expose bitter divisions inside their own party rather than amplify a GOP blockade that they have described as an existential threat to democracy.
In the final hours of debate, Democrats pressed the need for action — including a rare rules change that threatened to upend decades of Senate procedure — in lofty terms couched in the preservation of democracy, while Republicans angrily countered with accusations that the maneuver amounted to nothing more than a partisan power play.
Biden said Democrats were “not out of options” and that the fight over changes to voting laws would continue to the midterm elections and beyond.
“I’ve been engaged in a long time in public policy, and I don’t know many things that have been done in one fell swoop,” said Biden, adding that he believed voters would turn out in coming elections and force action in Congress. “But it’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that. It’s going to be difficult,” he said.