US Senate Democrats fail to pass suffrage bill

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WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats suffered two legislative defeats late on Wednesday in their effort to bolster voting rights protections ahead of November’s midterm elections that will determine the control of Congress in 2023.

In back-to-back votes late Wednesday, Senate Republicans initially blocked the Democrats’ decision to advance suffrage legislation toward passage. It was the fifth time in less than a year that they had done so.

They used the decades-old “filibuster” rule to stop the legislation, which requires the cooperation of at least 60 of the 100 members of the Senate to keep bills alive. The Senate is currently split 50-50.

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With lightning speed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, then moved to revamp the filibuster rule by lowering the threshold from 60 votes to 50. It was not Republicans, but Schumer’s own Democrats — conservatives Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — who put the final nail in the coffin by voting against the rule change.

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With their year-long initiative stalled even after Republican-controlled states enacted bills that experts said were designed to suppress voting in federal elections, especially among black, Hispanic and poor voters, the focus shifted to a nascent bipartisan effort to pass much more limited elections. reforms.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters that a group of senators planned to meet on Friday to discuss launching a bipartisan effort.

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Some of the changes they discuss have already been dismissed by leading Democrats and civil rights groups as falling far short of what is needed to secure easier access to the ballot in US elections.

“Let’s not sink into the abyss of voter suppression; give us the ballot,” Schumer implored before the rules changed the vote. But he failed to convince Manchin and Sinema.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has warned against changes to the rule. “Faction fires are burning across our country,” McConnell said, adding that changing the filibuster rule “would shrink the Senate for short-term power.”

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The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset on the eve of the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the building, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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Between 2016 and 2020, however, McConnell fanned partisan fires by first blocking then-presidential nominee Barack Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, only to then push all three nominees from former President Donald Trump in the Senate by removing the filibuster for those picks.

Now, with the 2022 midterm elections which will see the election of all 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, the partisan fighting is only likely to intensify.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who aligns himself with the Democrats, left the Senate chamber late Wednesday telling reporters the party needed to go on the offensive.

He urged Schumer to schedule votes on grassroots initiatives, such as lowering prescription drug costs for consumers, expanding Medicare and improving child care. These are all ideas that have been bundled with other improvements to national social programs and remedies for climate change in a $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” bill that languishes in Congress.

The voting rights bill that passed the House but buried Wednesday by the Senate would have established minimum federal voting standards so that any registered voter could request an absentee ballot. It would also have established at least two weeks of early voting and expanded the use of ballot boxes, which would make voting more convenient in many areas.

The Democrats’ legislation would also have attempted to remove partisanship from the way congressional districts are redrawn each decade. Currently, “gerrymandering” regularly tips the balance in favor of the ruling party in the various states.

Democrats argued their bill would bolster a democracy rocked by infighting and the violent Jan. 6, 2021 riot in the U.S. Capitol at the hands of thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump. The rioters were trying to prevent a congressional certification of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.

Highlighting deep divisions in Congress and across the country, Republicans countered that Democrats had fabricated a franchise crisis and argued that little or nothing needed to be done with the way states administer. the elections.

The final tally on limiting debate on the electoral reform bill was 49-51. No Republican voted to advance it.

Then the 50 plus Manchin and Sinema Republicans rejected the decision to change the filibuster rule by a vote of 52 to 48.

As the drama unfolded in the Senate, Biden told a press conference Wednesday that he hadn’t given up hope of advancing suffrage.

“We’re not running out of options yet,” the Democratic president said.

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Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan, additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler, Mark Porter and Aurora Ellis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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