Senate Democrats tried and failed once again Wednesday to begin debate on a bill that would radically revamp America’s election laws, as all but two Republicans voted to block the measure from coming to the chamber floor.
Just 50 senators, including Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), voted to open debate on the legislation, known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill needed 60 votes to clear the Senate’s legislative filibuster. Forty-nine senators voted to block debate, with Republican Mike Rounds of South Dakota not recording a vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), initially voted “yea,” but changed his vote to “nay” in order to bring the motion forward again at a later date.
Following the vote, Schumer lamented what he called “a low, low point in the history of this body,” saying at one point that “the Senate is better than this.”
Progressive Democrats have pushed for the legislation as a way to counter state laws enacted since the 2020 election that have enhanced voter ID measures and restricted the availability of absentee and mail-in ballots. The initial version of the bill, then known as the For the People Act, passed the Democratic-controlled House soon after it was introduced in March.
However, the measure has stalled in the Senate due to the filibuster. Wednesday’s vote marked the fourth time since June that Republicans have blocked debate on the bill. With the exception of Murkowski, no GOPer has been inclined to even consider what they see as an unconstitutional power grab by Democrats at the federal level.
“This has become an almost-weekly routine: My friends on the other side trying to give Washington unprecedented power over how Americans vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in brief remarks shortly before the vote. “We don’t have an NDAA [annual defense bill] or an appropriations process, but we always have time for these stunts.”
Even Murkowski criticized Schumer’s strategy of repeatedly calling test votes meant to demonstrate the staunchness of Republican opposition to the bill.
“Lets give ourselves the space to work across the aisle,” she said. “Our goal should be to avoid a partisan bill, not to take failing votes over and over.”
The latest version of the legislation would restore the Justice Department’s ability to police new changes to voting laws in states that have racked up a series of “violations,” drawing them into a mandatory review process known as “preclearance.”
The practice was first put in place under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 by a 5-4 vote. The justices ruled the formula for determining which states needed their laws reviewed was outdated and unfairly punitive, though they did say that Congress could come up with a new formula.
“Americans don’t need Attorney General [Merrick] Garland ruling over their states’ and their counties’ elections any more than they need congressional Democrats doing it themselves,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Some Democrats, including President Biden, have advocated or suggested scrapping the legislative filibuster in order to pass the bill. However, changing the Senate rules would require the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, and both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they will not support such a move.
In a perfunctory statement Wednesday, Biden demanded that Senate Republicans allow the measure to be debated and voted on.
“The right to vote is sacred and constitutional,” he said. “It’s fundamental to all other rights. The soul of America is at stake.”
With Post wires
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