Senators return to Capitol Hill under tremendous pressure from civil rights activists to amend their rules and end a Republican filibuster that has hopelessly blocked voting legislation.
The Senate is set to begin debate on the voting bill on Tuesday, with all eyes on two key Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who were targeted with a barrage of criticism during Martin Luther King Jr. Day events for their refusal to change the “Jim Crow filibuster,” as civil rights leaders refer to it.
Martin Luther King III, the late civil rights leader’s son, compared Sinema and Manchin to the white moderate his father wrote about during the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s — a person who declared support for the goals of Black voting rights but did not participate in the direct actions or demonstrations that led to the landmark legislation’s passage.
“History will not be kind to them,” the younger King added, alluding specifically to Sinema and Manchin.
The Senate will attempt to enact voting legislation for the seventh time this Congress, as election experts warn that new state regulations are making voting more difficult in some regions of the country.
The bill has cleared the House, but it is blocked in the Senate due to Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim Senate majority, with a 50-50 split – Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes required to break the GOP filibuster.
President Joe Biden, who had previously been hesitant to modify Senate rules, used the Martin Luther King holiday to put pressure on senators to do so. However, the White House’s drive, which included Vice President Joe Biden’s scathing speech in Atlanta last week equating opponents to segregationists, is perceived as too late, arriving as the president’s popularity sags as he nears the conclusion of his first year in office.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Biden stated, “It’s time for every political official in America to make it plain where they stand.” “It is past time for every American to take a stance. Speak up and let your voice be heard. “How do you feel about it?”
The Senate is beginning a potentially week-long discussion, but the conclusion is anticipated to be similar to previous unsuccessful votes on the bill. Biden has been unsuccessful in convincing Sinema and Manchin to join other Democrats in modifying the rules to reduce the 60-vote barrier. In fact, shortly before Biden came on Capitol Hill to court senators’ support, Sinema upstaged the president by reaffirming her opposition to the rule changes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has postponed a scheduled rule change vote for Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the fact that no bill is expected to pass by the end of the week, he is pushing ahead on Tuesday as proponents try to get senators on record.
Senators have been working hard for weeks on rule changes that they hope would garner support from Sinema and Manchin, but their attempts have been continually thwarted. The two senators, who are both moderates, have indicated interest in considering the proposals but have not endorsed them.
Both Manchin and Sinema have maintained that maintaining the Senate filibuster rules in their current form, with a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation, is critical for cooperation. They also warn of what might happen if Republicans regained full power in the House of Representatives, which is a definite possibility this election year, and were able to quickly approve GOP-backed legislation.
Despite her unwillingness to amend the restrictions, Sinema received a lot of backlash on social media for referencing King and the late Rep. John Lewis, whose name is on the legislation.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, is partly to blame for his party’s opposition to the voting bill. The Kentucky Republican has claimed that the bill is an intrusion by the federal government into state-run elections, and he has slammed Biden’s recent address as “unpresidential.”
While states are passing laws that many argue will make it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, refusing to allow water distribution in long lines, and requiring certain types of identification, civil rights leaders have urged the Senate to act quickly.
In an open letter to the Senate, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said, “We cannot think of a period more defining to the American tale than the chapter you are currently authoring.”
“Given the constant assaults on American freedom and democracy, what nation will your children and grandkids inherit?”
“Senator Manchin feels firmly that every American citizen of legal age has not only the right, but also the duty to vote, and that right must be safeguarded by law,” Manchin spokesman Sam Runyon said in a statement late Monday. He is still working on legislation to safeguard this right.”
A request for comment to Sinema’s office was not returned.
H.R. 1, the voting measure, was the Democrats’ primary goal this Congress, and it passed the House quickly only to linger in the Senate.
The package before the Senate, dubbed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, includes some of the most significant changes to elections in a generation, such as declaring Election Day a national holiday and requiring access to early voting and mail-in ballots, which were wildly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill is accompanied by the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act, which would restore voting rights that had been removed by the Supreme Court and empower the Justice Department to investigate states that have a history of election crimes.