Senate Republicans Block Voting Rights Bill As State GOPs Continue Assault On Franchise

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: (R-L) Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) walk to address reporters following a weekly Republican poli... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: (R-L) Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) walk to address reporters following a weekly Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on October 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. Members of the Senate Republican leadership spoke on a range of topics including inflation, the 2022 midterm elections, and the Internal Revenue Service. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 20, 2021 3:37 p.m.

Senate Republicans blocked Democrats’ voting rights bill Wednesday, filibustering the legislation to prevent it from even getting a floor debate before the final vote. 

Democratic efforts to confront the GOP attack on voting rights have repeatedly crashed up against the filibuster this year. The latest Republican blockade comes as GOP state legislatures continue to advance restrictive voting laws and draw congressional maps contorted by partisan gerrymanders. Those efforts to prevent ballot access predated Trump’s lies during and after the 2020 election, but were inflamed by them. 

The vote to proceed to a debate on the bill failed 49-51, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) voting against proceeding with the bill at the last minute — a technical maneuver so that he could file a motion to reconsider it later.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who held out this compromise package as an opportunity to win over Republicans and potentially clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to defeat a filibuster, failed to garner even one Republican vote to debate the bill.

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For Democrats, the outcome of today’s vote was disappointing but not unexpected. 

“I’m gonna be surprised if we even get a Republican vote to proceed to the bill,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told TPM Tuesday of the legislation, called the Freedom to Vote Act. 

Democrats had tried to sweeten the deal for Republicans, he added, offering them unlimited amendments on the legislation, “which we don’t do that often around here.” 

“That’s what you get — if you vote to proceed, you can put your counter-proposals on the table, have unlimited amendments, then you still have the ability to filibuster at the end if you want,” he said. 

In a statement before the vote, President Biden lamented that Republicans were likely to block the measure.

“The right to vote — to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted — is fundamental,” he said. “It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote.”

Schumer, after Republicans blocked the vote, took the GOP to task.

“By preventing the Senate from functioning as it was intended, Republicans in this body are permitting states to criminalize giving food and water to voters at the polls,” he said. “Republicans are saying it’s okay to limit polling places and voting hours and shut the door to more expansive vote by mail. I mean, my God, why aren’t all of my colleagues outraged by these laws?”

As with efforts to agree on a reconciliation package, Democrats have an eye on the calendar in their effort to pass voting rights legislation. There’s an understanding that the party might lose control of one or both chambers of Congress in 2022, forcelosing future legislative action.

Without legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act, and with Republicans seeking greater control over election administration, democracy advocates argue, it could lock Democrats out of power for years.

Manchin, alongside some of the bill’s cosponsors, has been meeting with Republicans to try to win over the 10 members necessary to defeat the filibuster. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), one of the bill’s cosponsors, told TPM last week that they’d only located five or six expressing openness to the legislation. 

Kaine pegged that number as potentially a bit higher on Tuesday, but added that “we’re not seeing any real willingness.” 

Democrats told TPM that after Wednesday’s vote, there will have to be some regrouping — and a serious talk about reforming the filibuster. Kaine expressed confidence that while Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are unequivocally opposed to abolishing the filibuster, they may be open to changing how it functions. 

Democrats have homed in on voting rights as the issue to sway the two recalcitrant senators into reforming the Senate rule. Both profess to care deeply about the issue, and there are exigent factors that will make passing the legislation more critical as time passes. 

Much of that is already happening. States are producing redistricting congressional maps absent the partisan gerrymandering bans the legislation entails. Some maps, like those in Texas seemingly drawn to dilute the voting power of minorities, have already drawn lawsuits. Unfair maps can be fought retroactively, but it becomes much more difficult.

Gerrymandered maps, in addition to restrictive voting laws, will make an uphill battle for Democrats in 2022 steeper, in addition to further eroding democratic norms. Democrats are hoping that those twinned realities push Manchin and Sinema to act before it’s too late.    

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), speaking to reporters before Wednesday’s vote, noted one difference from the previous voting rights package that got held up in the Senate, the For the People Act. Manchin opposed that bill, calling it too “partisan.”

“We have made an important step forward,” Warnock said. “We have all 50 Democrats on the bill.”

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