President Biden threw in the proverbial towel on Thursday and all but admitted defeat in his months-long effort to enact sweeping measures to protect voting rights before MLK Jr. Day on Monday.
After months of unsuccessful haggling, Biden journeyed to Capitol Hill to make a last-ditch personal appeal to fellow Democrats to change the Senate rules to allow passage of the bills.
“If we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” Biden said. “We missed this time.”
Raising his voice, Biden insisted he wouldn’t stop fighting to expand voting rights and repeatedly called for the need to “count the vote.”
“I know one thing: as long as I have a breath in me, as long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting,” he said.
Not a great week for Democrats:
• SCOTUS strikes down OSHA Mandate
• Nashville becomes Republican district
• Dems partisan election bill is dead
• Manchin refuses to kill filibuster
• Biden’s approval drops to 33%
• #BareShelvesBiden trending
• Inflation at a 40-year high
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) January 13, 2022
Biden pleaded with Democrats, including holdout moderates Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), to tweak the Senate filibuster rule. That move could allow Democrats to pass two voting rights bills with simple majority votes.
He spoke for about 15 minutes and declared that Senate rules “are not sacrosanct.”
Manchin and Sinema support the voting laws but steadfastly oppose the changes, mostly because they say the 60-vote rule ensures bipartisan dialogue on a range of issues.
Just minutes before Biden’s arrival, Sinema again expressed her opposition, effectively putting a nail in the coffin of the voting rights push.
“I will not support actions … that would worsen the disease of division in our country,” said Sinema.
Republicans welcomed Sinema’s speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heaped praise on her for an “act of extraordinary political courage.”
“(She) saved the Senate as an institution,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier said the Senate would take up twin voting rights measures later in the day but that timetable might get pushed back.
The House of Representatives teed up the Senate action by approving the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act on a party-line 220-203 vote.
“The right to vote is sacrosanct and central to the integrity of our democracy,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the No. 5 Democrat in the House.
Biden and Democrats framed the voting rights push as essential to defend American democracy in the face of former President Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and GOP efforts to make it tougher to vote.
Republicans counter that Democrats are just making noise to rev up their base and gain an edge in future elections.
Schumer had initially set the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, on Jan. 17, as a deadline to either pass the voting legislation or consider revising the filibuster rules. That vote could still happen.
But under their new strategy, which uses a procedural shortcut, they will be able to actually hold a debate on the bill without being blocked by a filibuster, which Republicans have deployed four times in recent months to stop debate.
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