US voting rights bill in jeopardy as leading Democrats refuse Senate rule changes

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President Joe Biden’s attempt to rally Democrats on Thursday to change Senate rules and pass voting rights legislation was blocked, even before he arrived on the U.S. Capitol, by opposition from a key moderate lawmaker.

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said in a Senate speech on Thursday — less than an hour before Biden’s lunchtime arrival — that the “filibuster rule” that allows a minority of senators to block the legislation was necessary to prevent deepening political divisions in the country.

After Biden left the Capitol following his meeting with Democrats, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin joined Sinema in opposing changes to Senate rules.

However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced late Thursday that the Senate would begin debate on the legislation next Tuesday. If Republicans block that bill as expected, Schumer said he’s prepared to seek a change to the Senate’s filibuster rule to win passage.

While officials expected no quick breakthrough, Biden continued to press his case with Sinema and Manchin into the evening. The two senators met with Biden at the White House for a meeting that lasted more than an hour, the administration said.

None of the participants spoke to the media afterwards. A White House official called the meeting a “frank and respectful exchange of views.”

Earlier, when he left the Capitol, the president acknowledged that his party may not succeed in passing a voting rights bill.

“Hopefully we can get there, but I’m not sure,” Biden told reporters. “One thing is certain: like all other major civil rights bills, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. We missed this time.

Sinema & Manchin represent 2.8% of the US population but allow 41 GOP senators representing just 21% of the country to block suffrage bills backed by 70% of Americans that would protect voting access for tens of millions. America’s Political System Completely Broken

— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) January 13, 2022 Biden and many fellow Democrats have stepped up their campaign to pass voting rights legislation after spending much of his first year in office on infrastructure and focused bills on COVID-19 relief, infrastructure and social protection programs.

They are pushing new legislation they say would protect ballot access, especially for minority voters, as Republican-controlled states pass new restrictions ahead of November 8 congressional elections.

Non-white voters disproportionately support Democratic candidates in the election.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a voting bill on Thursday. But Democrats can’t overcome universal Republican opposition in the Senate without changing the chamber’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 of 100 senators to agree on most laws. The Democrats hold 50 seats.

“I will not support separate actions that aggravate the underlying disease of division in our country,” Sinema told the Senate.

Sinema and Manchin voted in December to bypass the 60-vote threshold to raise the country’s debt ceiling without Republican support.

“Difficult” course

Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucus with Democrats, said he believed Biden made his case during his meeting with lawmakers.

“It looks like the way forward is very difficult, especially based on Senator Sinema’s statement today,” he said. “She believes the risk of changing the filibuster is greater than the risk of what happens in the states. I sincerely hope she is right. I fear she is wrong.

The House repackaged and passed two election-related bills into one, sending it to the Senate under a special procedure preventing Republicans from blocking debate. The bill was approved along party lines.

“Make no mistake about it, the US Senate will be debating suffrage legislation for the first time in Congress starting on Tuesday,” Schumer said Thursday evening. Three separate attempts to debate the legislation last year were blocked by Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Wednesday that Republicans oppose Democrats’ voting rights legislation and filibuster amendments.

Former Democratic President Barack Obama wrote in a USA Today opinion piece on Thursday that the filibuster rule has become a tool for the House minority to obstruct moves supported by most voters.

“We cannot allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy,” Obama wrote.

(Reuters)

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