House to vote on combined election bill

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House to vote on combined election bill

Congressional Democrats will begin a futile bid to jam sweeping election reform through the Senate and alter its 60-vote legislative filibuster later Thursday when the House votes on a bill merging two separate voting measures.

The complex effort is certain to fail due to opposition by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to changing the filibuster rule — and a new memo from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggests a promised showdown vote may not happen at all.

Democrats have opted to use an unrelated bill extending NASA’s property leasing authority as the vehicle to send both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to the Senate.

The newly constructed measure cleared two procedural votes in the House along party lines late Wednesday and a vote on final passage is expected at mid-morning Thursday.

Because the original bill was already passed by the House and Senate, Schumer does not need 60 votes to open debate on the election proposals. Republicans repeatedly blocked debate in the 50-50 Senate on both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act last year and none are expected to support cloture when Schumer moves to end debate.

“With this procedure, we will finally have an opportunity to debate voting rights legislation – something that Republicans have thus far denied,” Schumer told his colleagues in a memo laying out his plan Wednesday evening. “Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass the voting rights legislation, we will need 10 Republicans to join us — which we know from past experience will not happen — or we will need to change the Senate rules as has been done many times before.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
A new memo from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggests a promised showdown vote may not happen at all.
EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Schumer vowed earlier this month to bring rule change legislation up for a vote by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, if the voting bills did not pass. However, in the face of Manchin and Sinema’s steadfast support for the filibuster, Senate leadership may opt to forgo a vote on rule changes and be content with a lengthy debate on the topic.

Senate Democratic leadership opted to pivot to election reform after the push to pass a sweeping social spending measure hit a wall last month, with Manchin voicing opposition to multiple provisions in President Biden’s $2 trillion Build Back Better bill. 

The Freedom to Vote Act would unwind a number of restrictions put in place by some states — allowing for same-day voter registration, permitting no-excuse mail voting, preventing states from requiring a photo ID to vote, allowing for felons to vote in all states changing the rules surrounding congressional redistricting, requiring super PACs, and so-called “dark money groups” to disclose all donors contributing over $10,000. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would undo court rulings that weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by requiring certain states to receive federal preclearance before enacting redistricting plans or new voting laws. 

Democrats have cited the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and the new state voting laws as examples of the GOP attempting to disenfranchise voters. Republicans have rejected the accusations, arguing that Democrats’ push to pass the legislation represents unconstitutional partisan overreach. 

GOP critics argue that strong protections for minority voters remain in place under the Voting Rights Act and have called instead for the Senate to move on a bill to reform the Electoral Count Act to clarify Congress’ role in certifying elections. 

Biden is expected to huddle with Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours after the House vote, as he ramps up pressure on Manchin and Sinema to get on board with passing the legislation with a simple majority. 

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