Voting rights bill fails in Senate as focus shifts again to filibuster

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The For the People Act, the sweeping voting rights bill championed by Democrats, was blocked in the Senate Tuesday as it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the evenly divided chamber.

The procedural vote to open debate on the bill was supported by all 50 Democrats and opposed by all 50 Republicans.

The legislation would have made it easier for people to vote by mandating 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, allowing for same-day voter registration and unlimited ballot collection, enacting automatic registration for federal elections and lowering identification requirements.

President Joe Biden called the vote "the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression—another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented."

"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," the president said in a statement.

It would also ban the practice of partisan gerrymandering, in which state legislatures redraw congressional districts in irregular shapes that are designed to give their party an advantage. Good-government advocates say that nonpartisan commissions should redraw the lines every 10 years, after each census.

Republicans, meanwhile, argue that the For the People Act is a sweeping federal power grab that includes numerous impractical provisions. Some election experts agree with this assessment.

The Democrats focused on securing a unified agreement among all 50 members of their party in the Senate, including centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin last week released what he would like to see included, and he has been negotiating with other Senate Democrats to reach an agreement. On Tuesday afternoon, Manchin said he would vote in favor of moving forward with debate on the legislation, a win for Democrats.

Manchin would favor 15 days of early voting and making Election Day a public holiday, as well as automatic voter registration. But he also backs requiring voter ID and does not favor universal no-excuse absentee voting, two positions long embraced by many Republicans.

The Senate Democrats' unified front allowed them to approach Republican senators who might be open to supporting the bill, but also gives Democrats running for election in 2022 the ability to say that their party stood as one in favor of expanding voting access while Republicans would not even debate the issue. The odds of even Manchin’s proposal gaining the support of 10 Republicans are not at all high, and many see the demise of the effort as a fait accompli.

Two Republican senators who have voted with Democrats on some occasions — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — both panned the sweeping version of the bill favored by progressives. Murkowski called the original legislation “wholly partisan” and Collins criticized “over-the-top rhetoric” by Democrats.

But former President Barack Obama on Monday backed the Manchin effort and urged Republicans to join with Democrats in figuring out a way to increase both the security and the integrity of elections while also reducing barriers to voting.

“You’ve had President Obama come out,” Manchin told reporters in Washington, referring to the former president’s specific and unusual singling out of his compromise approach. “We’ve just got to keep working.”

If no agreement can be reached, the focus will shift to the filibuster rule, which has prevented Democrats from enacting key priorities without Republican support, like the elections bill overhaul.

Many progressives want Senate Democrats to vote to get rid of the legislative filibuster. Republicans eliminated the blocking procedure for Supreme Court nominations in 2017 in order to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, after Democrats got rid of it for judicial nominations other than the Supreme Court in 2013.

Democrats who want to do away with the legislative filibuster paint the current scenario in apocalyptic terms, saying that if the Senate does not pass the For the People Act, Republicans will be able to strong-arm and cheat their way to power in Congress, largely through voter suppression.

But that narrative doesn’t appear to have purchase with some number of Democrats, including possibly even President Biden.

It’s true that Republicans have supported legislation making it harder to vote for the last two decades, such as voter ID laws that allow gun permits but not college student IDs, limiting early voting and voting by mail, and removing people from voter rolls simply for not voting. They have also used dubious justification for doing so, claiming that serious fraud exists without ever providing evidence for their claims. On the other hand, studies suggest that turnout levels in elections do not have a partisan impact, and Democrats have not provided conclusive proof that voter suppression has kept their candidates from winning elections.

One of the most bitterly fought campaigns in which voter suppression became an issue was the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp oversaw the race in his capacity as secretary of state — essentially serving as referee in a game in which he was competing — and enacted a number of measures that clearly made it harder for minority and poor voters to cast ballots.

Kemp won and Abrams contested the result, refusing to say she lost a fair election. Since then she has become revered by Democrats and reviled by Republicans.

Many Democrats remain convinced not only that democracy is at stake but that their party cannot win elections in which turnout is lower, despite evidence to the contrary.

Critics say there is much to be concerned about regarding the direction of the GOP, as former President Donald Trump continues to spread lies about the 2020 election outcome, making wildly false claims that he somehow won despite the complete absence of any evidence. And many in his party continue to either spread these lies or go along with them.

In fact, Congress has not done anything yet to counter efforts in Republican-controlled states to make it easier for state legislatures to overturn, change or meddle with election results after Election Day. This is the issue, liberals and good-government activists argue, that has the capacity to truly bring down American democracy.

As for the voting rights bill, Biden has chosen to focus his administration until now on reaching a bipartisan infrastructure deal with Republicans. It’s a clear attempt, politically speaking, to create a Democratic brand that can appeal to centrists and moderates in national elections.

This is the central tension driving the drama inside the Democratic Party, between those who think the party can win only by driving up turnout and appealing to its base, and those who believe Democrats have to attract and maintain broader support. Data supports the latter group, showing that the electorate is fluid, not static, with tens of millions of low-information voters and many millions more who are eligible and could vote in future elections but have not yet done so.

Recent examinations of the last election by Democratic strategists have also shown that Latino voters in particular are not as locked into the Democratic fold as many in the party have believed.

The Senate’s failure to reach a bipartisan infrastructure deal could set the Biden White House and the Democratic Party on a path of building public support for reforming or abolishing the filibuster, or simply toward passing as much as they can through budget reconciliation, a limited tool but one that allows them to pass certain provisions with only 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris playing the role of tiebreaker.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday vowed that Biden will not abandon the cause of voting rights, but is taking a somewhat longer view.

“This fight is not over no matter the outcome today,” Psaki told reporters. “It is going to continue."

She also said the White House believed that the vote would “prompt a new conversation” about the filibuster rule in Congress.

But the path to abolishing the legislative filibuster continues to look unlikely. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., reiterated her opposition to doing so in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday, and she and Manchin are just the two most outspoken Democrats in the Senate who do not want to get rid of the procedure.

In the meantime, Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to combat voter suppression laws with renewed vigor, doubling the number of lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights division in response to a rash of laws that have made it harder to vote in many states.

The For the People Act passed the Democrat-controlled House in March on a near-party-line vote. Not one Republican voted for it.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., excoriated his GOP colleagues over their opposition to expanding voting rights.

Schumer said there is a “rot at the center of the modern Republican Party” over efforts to restrict voting after Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

An official statement of policy released by the Biden administration Tuesday warned that “democracy is in peril, here in America.”

“The right to vote — a sacred right in this country — is under assault with an intensity and an aggressiveness we have not seen in a long time,” the statement read. “This landmark legislation is needed to protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, and repair and strengthen American democracy.”

 

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Kyrsten Sinema’s Filibuster Stand: If Democrats Pass Bills, GOP Can Just Overturn Them Later

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The Arizona Democrat argued in an op-ed that preserving the Senate minority rights is more important than passing legislation amid threats to democracy.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stood firmly for the filibuster Monday, saying essentially that Democrats should not take advantage of being in the majority by passing legislation that a future Republican majority could overturn.

The Arizona Democrat wrote an opinion article that was published Monday in The Washington Post, the night before senators are set to vote on whether to debate sweeping voting rights legislation. No Republicans in the evenly divided Senate are expected to support the For the People Act, which would need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. GOP lawmakers have already successfully used the filibuster this year to stop debate over one piece of legislation: establishing a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission.

“It’s no secret that I oppose eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018,” the moderate Democrat wrote. “If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority.”

In her editorial, Sinema’s foundational argument is that the gridlocked status quo in the Senate and the need to preserve the power of the minority are preferable to an environment in which both parties can legislate when they’re in the majority and have the results of that work influence future elections.

“To those people who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?” Sinema wrote.

“To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand health-care access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women’s reproductive health services?”

Though intended to argue that Democrats will regret abolishing the filibuster in the future when it’s time to fight for legislation as the minority, the op-ed essentially made the case against passing any bill that could be later rescinded by the opposing party. This includes the For the People Act, a voting rights bill that would, among other things, hold states accountable for making sure Americans have access to the ballot box. 

Despite the dhttps://www.theopinionpoll.comream of bipartisanship by Sinema and other moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Republicans are busy blocking every bill introduced by Democrats and, at the state level, passing voter suppression laws across the country, including in Sinema’s Arizona. None of the voter suppression bills proceeded with a supermajority requirement, and none of the bills had bipartisan support. In fact, the bills and laws are an attempt to give Republicans more power and to move further away from bipartisanship ― something the Democratic majorities in the federal government are mostly working to fix.

The idea of abolishing and reforming the filibuster has become increasingly popular among Democrats, who have the majority in the House and, as of the 2020 election, a very narrow majority in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has voiced his support for getting rid of the filibuster so that Democrats can pass a backlog of legislation without getting blocked by Republicans.

“We Democrats wish a voting rights bill would be bipartisan. By all rights it should be. But the actions in state legislatures were totally partisan. None of these voter suppression laws were passed with bipartisan support. Not one. And Washington Republicans seem dead-set against all remedies, whether it’s S.1, some modified version, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which Sen. [Mitch] McConnell has recently opposed,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor.

“So the idea that we can have some kind of bipartisan solution to this partisan attack on democracy befuddles me.”

Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

On June 4, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods ― who prominently backed Sinema’s election to the Senate ― said that she must help abolish the filibuster or get out of office. On June 10, three dozen Arizona Democrats begged Sinema to do everything in her power to pass the For the People Act, as Republicans in her own state attempt to audit the 2020 election results that went to President Joe Biden. In a letter, the Democrats said that “democracy is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of archaic and anti-democratic Senate procedures such as the filibuster.”

On Monday afternoon, Biden hosted Manchin and Sinema at separate meetings to discuss a series of issues stuck in Congress, including voting rights and infrastructure funding, according to a White House official. The president “made it clear how important he thinks it is that the Senate find a path forward” on voting rights legislation.

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Mike Pence called 'traitor' by hecklers in Florida

Former Vice President Mike Pence was briefly heckled Friday as a "traitor" at a conservative conference in Orlando seen as a stop for Republicans honing stump speeches for a possible presidential run in 2024.

As Pence kicked off his remarks to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the organization founded by political consultant and lobbyist Ralph Reed, several audience members greeted him with boos.

Former Vice President Mike Pence

"It is great to be back with so many patriots," Pence said as the jeering continued, "dedicated to faith and freedom and the road to the majority."

As he thanked Reed, who introduced his speech, multiple audience members yelled out, "Traitor!" and continued to try to drown him out. Security personnel quickly removed the hecklers from the crowd, and Pence was able to continue his remarks without further incident.

The tension between supporters of former President Donald Trump and Pence remains palpable more than five months after a violent mob seeking to block the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden's election victory stormed the U.S. Capitol, chanting, "Hang Mike Pence!"

Pence oversaw the certification, and Trump, speaking at a rally before the riot, urged him to block it.

"I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so," Trump told his supporters on Jan. 6. "Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election."

Later in his speech, Trump again commented on Pence.

"And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a, a sad day for our country because you're sworn to uphold the Constitution," Trump said.

As the rioters breached the Capitol that afternoon, Trump again took aim at his vice president. "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify," he tweeted. "USA demands the truth!"

With recent moves such as announcing a book deal and returning to the speaking circuit at Republican gatherings, Pence has seemed to signal that he intends to mount a White House run in 2024. If so, that would set up an inevitable clash with Trump supporters, especially if the former president decides to seek a second term.

"You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office, and I don't know if we'll ever see eye-to-eye on that day," Pence said at a GOP dinner in Manchester, N.H., in early June, referring to Jan. 6.

On Friday, however, Pence continued to walk the fine line of linking himself to Trump's legacy while continuing to occupy a place of scorn among his supporters.

"You know, for the past four years, President Trump taught us what Republicans can accomplish when we stand firm on conservative principles and don't back down," Pence said. "Our administration was four years of consequence, four years of results. As we like to say, it was four years of promises made and promises kept."

To that line, anyway, the former vice president received warm applause.

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