As many predicted, voting rights legislation has again been defeated in the U.S. Senate. Despite the recent push by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for Congress to finally pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, the legislation appears hopelessly stalled. As the New York Times reported, on Wednesday night, the Senate rejected a measure to change filibuster rules, which would have been necessary to pass voting rights legislation over Republican opposition.
Republicans and two conservative Democrats kill voting rights protections.
As Blavity previously reported, these two major voting rights bills, designed to protect voting rights and to establish national standards for voting access, were combined into a single measure and passed by the House of Representatives last week. Through a procedural move, Congressional Democrats forced a debate on the legislation in the Senate, where previous versions of the voting rights legislation were defeated by Republican opposition using the filibuster.
As expected, Republicans again filibustered the legislation. Democrats then shifted to a debate over changing or eliminating the filibuster, a procedural move that would only require the support of 50 senators. Despite Democrats having this exact number of senators, two conservative Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — again reiterated that they opposed changing the filibuster, even though they’ve expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. In the end, Manchin and Sinema were not moved by the pleas of their colleagues and voted against changing the filibuster.
The defeat of voting rights protections was disappointing but not surprising.
This outcome was widely expected going into Wednesday’s proceedings. During a nearly two-hour press conference, held before the end of Senate deliberations, Biden addressed the expected aftermath of voting rights legislation failing. Suggesting a strategy of breaking up the defeated bill into smaller portions, Biden argued, “I think there are a number of things we can do, but I also think we will be able to get significant pieces of the legislation — if we don’t get it all now — to build to get it so that we get a big chunk of the John Lewis legislation, as well as the fair elections.”
Earlier in the news conference, however, Biden seemed resigned to the idea that at least some voter suppression efforts would remain in place. “No matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote,” the president argued, “I think you’re going to see them willing to stand in line and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote.” Such sentiments, which echo earlier calls from the White House for Democrats to “out-organize” voter suppression, drew anger from voting rights advocates last year.
During one key exchange, a reporter asserted to Biden that many Black voters “feel as though you are not fighting hard enough for them and their priorities” before asking the president “what do you say to these Black voters who say that you do not have their backs, as you promised on the campaign trail?”
Biden, in a long response, both defended his track record of supporting the Black community and voting rights in particular. “That’s what got me involved in politics in the first place,” Biden said.
“I have not been out in the community nearly enough," the president added.
Voting Rights advocates express determination to move forward.
After the voting rights bill was officially stopped in the Senate Wednesday evening, Democrats reacted to the unsurprising but disappointing and frustrating outcome. President Biden declared that he was “profoundly disappointed” in the defeat of the bill before pledging to “continue to advance necessary legislation and push for Senate procedural changes that will protect the fundamental right to vote.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, who has been a powerful opponent of voter suppression laws like those passed in his home state, Georgia, pledged that the fight is not over. “We will meet the moment again, to try again. And again. Until we succeed,” Rev. Warnock tweeted.
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse posted a series of tweets arguing that Senate Democrats could eventually force a simple majority vote if they were willing to “outlast” Republicans in debate, though noting that such a strategy “could take weeks, as other Voting Rights bills did.”
There is a difficult road ahead for voting rights.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans held a press conference in which they defended their support for the filibuster and opposition to voting rights legislation, arguing that voting is not being impeded. In an example of “saying the quiet part out loud,” McConnell at one point argued that “if you look at the statistics, African Americans are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”
Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown stated the overall mood and reaction of voting rights advocates in two short tweets yesterday.
“Well that was disappointing,” she said.
Shortly after, she followed with “This ain’t over. #VotingRightsNow.”
With unified Republican opposition and the continued recalcitrance of Sens. Manchin and Sinema, any movement on national voting rights protections remain a steep uphill battle. Yet the activists and politicians who have been fighting this fight for months and years are not deterred. Voting rights legislation may have failed in its current form, but the fight for voting rights protections is far from over.