During the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary, then-candidate Joe Biden was made fun of by his chief opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, for believing he could persuade the Republican Party to negotiate with him in order to advance his agenda. Wednesday night, the Republican Party, coupled with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, destroyed hopes of advancing the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
All 50 Democrats supported the voting rights bills while all 50 Republicans voted in opposition, which left the Democrats ten votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster and bring the legislation to the Senate floor for debate.
“We’ll make up new rules as we go along, invite ourselves and future majorities to disregard the rule book at will,” Manchin said, an opponent of changing the Senate filibuster rules. “Let this change happen this way and the Senate will be a body without rules.”
First, the Freedom to Vote Act would establish nationwide standards for ballot access that aim to nix new restrictions Republicans have imposed in states, including Georgia, which is based upon former President Trump’s grievances after losing the 2020 Presidential Election. Included is a law that would establish a minimum of 15 consecutive days of early voting and a requirement that all voters be able to request to vote by mail. The measure would also establish new automatic voter registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would reinstate the majority of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was gutted by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions, including a requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination have voting changes approved by the Justice Department or federal courts before they can be put in place.
The dual defeat was entirely within the realm of possibility, however, the Democrats’ purpose to push forward was to highlight the GOP’s obstructionist behavior.
U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock spoke from the Senate floor, delivering an impassioned speech in favor of federal voting rights standards.
“Consider this—there are some things you can do in this chamber with just 51 votes,” Warnock said. “Confirm a Supreme Court nominee? 51. Pass trillions of dollars in investments for our communities? 51. Pass massive tax cuts mainly for the richest of the rich? 51. Confirm cabinet nominees? 51. Raise the debt ceiling? We found a way to do it the other week—51. But it takes 60 votes to repair the ceiling of our democracy by passing voting rights legislation. I’m left to conclude that if the issue is important enough, the Senate feels compelled to act. Well let me say that I believe that the democracy is at least as important as the economy.”
Those pleas fell on deaf ears from Republicans as they claimed the Democrats’ quest to establish federal voting standards would destroy state’s rights.
“This party-line push has never been about securing citizens’ rights,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader. “It’s about expanding politicians’ power.”
Notably, McConnell made controversial comments comparing ‘African-Americans’ and ‘Americans’ after he was asked what his message was for voters of color who are concerned about their voting rights.
“Well, the concern is misplaced,” McConnell replied. “Because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”
He continued: “A recent survey, 94 percent of Americans thought it was easy to vote. This is not a problem. Turnout is up, biggest turnout since 1900… They’re being sold a bill of goods to support a Democratic effort to federalize elections… This has been a Democratic Party goal for decades.”
Many observers on social media declared McConnell said the quiet part out loud.
Meanwhile, the Biden Administration vowed to keep fighting for voting rights. In a statement, President Biden said he would, “explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy.”
Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the debate in the Senate Wednesday night and she echoed President Biden’s sentiments.
“The president and I are not going to give up on this issue. This is fundamental to our democracy,” Harris said.