President Biden made a fruitless trip to Capitol Hill Thursday in a forlorn effort to urge Senate Democrats to weaken the legislative filibuster in order to pass sweeping election reform.
Emerging from the lunch meeting after a little more than an hour, Biden admitted to reporters that his efforts had “missed this time.”
Biden’s plan to make a broad appeal to his caucus was shivved shortly before his arrival by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who warned on the Senate floor that changing the 60-vote requirement to pass most legislation would further divide the US.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the other moderate Democrat opposed to weakening the filibuster, backed Sinema’s speech, telling reporters: “I think it’s the points that I’ve been making for an awful long time and she has, too.”
The centrist backlash isn’t the only road bump.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Thursday he tested positive for COVID-19, meaning Democrats would have difficulty getting 50 anyway because the Senate doesn’t allow remote voting. Schumer (D-NY) wanted to force a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday.
A handful of other moderate Democrats, including Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), are not publicly supportive of the move pushed by Biden and Schumer.
Biden called for action Tuesday in an Atlanta speech, claiming that federal voting rights legislation was needed to override recent laws passed by Republicans in states like Georgia.
The president claimed that the GOP state laws were being pushed by “forces that attempted a coup,” referring to last year’s Capitol riot.
“Do you want to be the side of the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Biden asked elected officials. “Do you want to be the site of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide.”
Biden’s speech drew strong pushback from Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), both of whom strongly opposed former President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Romney said in a Senate speech Wednesday that Biden “said quite a number of things that simply weren’t true” in his Atlanta address and that he “accused a number of my good and principled colleagues in the Senate of having sinister, even racist inclinations.”
McConnell (R-Ky.) harshly denounced Biden’s speech as a “rant,” “incoherent” and “unpresidential” — and said Biden was “shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants.”
Republicans argue recent state laws are intended to reduce the risk of voter fraud and to phase out COVID-19 pandemic policies that expanded remote voting.
The Georgia law doesn’t alter Election Day hours but expands early voting by adding a second mandatory Saturday. It affirms that counties can open for early voting on two Sundays and allows counties to extend early voting hours beyond normal business hours. Democrats oppose provisions that require a photo ID to get an absentee ballot, shorten the window of time to vote absentee and allow state officials to take over local election offices in response to alleged misconduct.
The federal bills pushed by Biden include the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would force certain states to gain federal approval for changes to election laws, responding to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that reduced post-Civil Rights Era oversight. The other, the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a holiday, force states to allow no-excuse mail-in voting and require that most jurisdictions allow 10 hours per day of early voting for two weeks before an election. That bill would bar states from requiring people to show ID to get a mail-in ballot.