Democratic senators on Wednesday argued for the passage of sweeping federal suffrage protections, portraying state measures imposed by Republican legislatures limiting access to the polls as a threat to democracy so serious that the filibuster rules of long-standing should be amended to ensure their enactment.
Republicans were equally impassioned in their denunciations of the Democratic effort, accusing their opponents of concocting a fake crisis to justify a federal takeover of local voting rules to twist the results for partisan gain.
The drama of the day was not likely to change the results of the votes scheduled for Wednesday evening. Around 6:30 p.m., the Senate was scheduled to vote to halt debate on the legislation, which Democrats say is urgently needed to counter widespread ballot suppression efforts being implemented by Republicans at the state level. Although every senator who caucus with Democrats supports him, a Republican filibuster will prevent the voting rights measure from reaching a final vote.
Democratic leaders then consider changing Senate filibuster rules without Republican consent. That, too, was about to be stalled when Democratic Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona joined 50 Republicans in voting against, denying their party the majority it would need to make the leap. change.
Senators are spending the day debating the bill, which the House approved last week, and arguing over the very nature of their institution as they clash over minority rights to thwart the legislation, and whether the filibuster – a legendary Senate tool for asserting them – needs to be weakened.
“Nothing less than the very future of our democracy hangs in the balance, and we must act or risk losing what so many Americans have fought for — and died — for nearly 250 years,” the senator said. Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan.
Although they introduced the legislation Tuesday using a procedural shortcut that avoided an initial Republican blockade, Democrats fell far short of the votes needed to win its passage over the unified GOP opposition and lacked the necessary votes in their party to change the rules of the Senate and pass it. unilaterally.
Republicans were firm in their opposition, saying it was the Democratic Party that sought to influence election results for partisan gain. In Washington, Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, said, “Every advantage is sought and every advantage gained is exploited to keep your party in power.
Still, Democratic leaders announced they would set in motion a long-running effort to establish a filibuster exception for suffrage bills, forcing opponents to speak out for a “filibuster.” talking” to the old which would allow a final of 51 senators. majority vote – instead of the 60 currently required – to move forward after all senators have exhausted their speaking opportunities.
“If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the rules of the Senate must be reformed,” Schumer said.
The Democrats’ plan, unveiled at a private party meeting on Tuesday night, would still require a partisan vote to change the rules, meaning it cannot succeed at this point given resistance from at least two Democrats .
No Republicans currently support the voting rights measure, which combines two sweeping bills intended to protect access to the ballot box, leaving Democrats 10 votes short in an evenly divided Senate.
As the debate got underway, many Democrats sat at their mahogany desks on the floor, a show of force they planned to continue throughout the day for what they consider a historic debate. Republicans, on the other hand, were mostly absent.
When they appeared, it was to protest the legislation and the Democrats’ portrayal of its opponents as fanatics trying to authorize voting restrictions targeting people of color.
“I’m not a racist,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
The standoff has led to intensified calls to unilaterally change the filibuster rules so Democrats can bulldoze Republicans’ objections. But at least two Democrats, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have made clear they won’t, even if they support the legislation.
Republicans have strongly pushed back on this effort. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Minority Leader, reiterated his threat that Republicans would use his power to virtually shut down the Senate if Democrats were successful in executing the so-called “nuclear option” and eviscerated the systematic obstruction.
“The Senate in nuclear winter would not be a hospitable place,” he warned.