Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema vowed not to support eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation on Thursday, likening the move to an “underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
In a speech on the Senate floor less than a hour before President Biden was scheduled to meet with the Senate Democratic Caucus on the two voting rights bills, the moderate Democrat affirmed her support for the legislation, but refused to back actions to evade the 60-vote threshold.
“These bills help the symptoms of the disease [of division], but they do not fully address the disease itself,” Sinema said, after detailing a disease of “division” in the country and Congress.
“And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that were sent the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
Sinema outlined the dangers of eliminating the filibuster, noting that when one party “only negotiates with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes.”
She pointed to the constant shift of power in Washington, DC, as Democrats and Republicans rotate holding the majority in Congress and the White House.
Sinema said the legislative filibuster ensures policy is backed by senators representing broader portions of the country, rather than solely focusing on the majority party.
“But what is the legislative filibuster, other than a tool that require new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators representing a broader cross-section of Americans, a guardrail inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds a Senate majority, but which in reality ensure that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process,” she said.
Biden is due in the Capitol around 1 p.m. Thursday in an effort to get total party unity to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by eliminating or altering the filibuster.
But he is unlikely to sway Sinema or fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Biden, who defended the filibuster for at least two decades, endorsed eliminating the procedure on Tuesday, saying there was “no option” but to change Senate rules to move the legislation forward in the 50-50 Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to call a vote on the rules change by Jan. 17 — though without full party support, the measure is likely to fail.
Manchin admitted this week that the Senate needs “some good rules changes,” but added that “getting rid of the filibuster does not make it work better.”
Republicans have slammed the Democratic push, citing Biden and Schumer’s previous support of the procedure.
In 2005, then-Sen. Biden strongly defended the filibuster, saying it was “about compromise and moderation.”
At the time, some Republicans floated eliminating the procedure, which he called “an example of the arrogance of power.”
“It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less,” he said, highlighting the importance the filibuster has to moderate senators.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will continue to “work the phone” over the next few days to push the legislation forward, according to the White House.