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Manchin, Sinema join Senate GOP in rejecting filibuster rule change, dooming voting bills


WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans voted in unity Wednesday to block the advancement of a package of sweeping election legislation pushed by Democrats in a tense showdown over national voting rights.

The vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was 49-51. It broke evenly along party lines, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switched his vote to “no” in the end for procedural reasons. It fell short of the 60 needed to defeat a filibuster under Senate rules.

The Senate then voted down a motion by Democrats to change the rules and impose a “talking filibuster” aimed at passing the legislation without Republican support once debate ends.

The result was 48-52, falling short of the 50 needed to succeed, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., voting with Republicans to reject the rule change.

The series of votes all but dooms federal voting rights legislation, one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities, for the foreseeable future. Win or lose, Schumer has been determined to force the vote and put every senator on the record for what he says is a defining moment for democracy. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived on Capitol Hill after sundown to preside over the debate.

“I believe that voting rights are more important than a procedural rule,” said freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., whose victory in Georgia last year helped give Democrats control of the chamber.

Earlier Wednesday, Manchin took to the floor to reiterate his support for the 60-vote threshold to pass most bills. He said he’s a proud cosponsor of the two voting rights measures but opposes a rule change to pass them.

“I have not — and will never — waver on this,” he said, arguing that curtailing the filibuster would pour “fuel on the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing our nation apart.”

Before Manchin’s speech, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., an outspoken filibuster opponent, made a last-ditch effort to persuade his West Virginia colleague, walking over to him on the Senate floor with a piece of paper that said, “Vote on final passage!”

The proposed rule change would require a “talking filibuster” for only the voting legislation, which would mean a simple majority could pass it after Republicans use all of the allowable time to speak.

The rule change would shift the onus away from a Senate majority to find 60 votes to advance the legislation and toward the minority to hold the floor and talk continuously to block bills.

“The eyes of history are upon us,” Schumer said Wednesday. “If the Republicans block cloture on the legislation before us, I will put forward a proposal to change the Senate rules to allow for a talking filibuster on this legislation.”

Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, of Arizona, said on Wednesday he will support a Senate rule change. He had not previously taken a position on the filibuster.

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote,” Kelly said in a statement. “Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Manchin and Sinema for backing the 60-vote rule earlier Wednesday, calling it “the biggest day in the history of the Senate, because we are dealing with the Senate as an institution.”

The Freedom to Vote Act would create a set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box nationwide. The bill would require states to offer a minimum number of days for early voting and the ability to vote by mail for any reason. It would also make Election Day a national holiday.

The other measure, named after the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark legislation that barred discriminatory election laws.

Biden in a speech last week called for senators to end to the filibuster to allow for passage of the elections overhaul as frustration among voting rights advocates has grown over the stalled legislation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who opposes the Freedom To Vote Act but supports the John Lewis bill, said earlier in the day she would vote “no” on the combined package and the rules change effort.

“What we’re faced with today — or later today — is going to be a take-it-or-leave-it vote and then an effort to change how we approach hard issues,” she said.

Teaganne Finn contributed.



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